Regensburg lecture  

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During a lecture given at the University of Regensburg in 2006, Pope Benedict XVI quoted an unfavorable remark about Islam made at the end of the 14th century by Manuel II Palaiologos, the Byzantine emperor:

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.

As the English translation of the Pope's lecture was disseminated across the world, many Muslim politicians and religious leaders protested against what they saw as an insulting mischaracterization of Islam.

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The Regensburg lecture or Regensburg address was delivered on 12 September 2006 by Pope Benedict XVI at the University of Regensburg in Germany, where he had once served as a professor of theology. It was entitled "Faith, Reason and the University — Memories and Reflections" (Template:Lang-de). The lecture is considered to be among the most important papal statements on world affairs since John Paul II's 1995 address to the United Nations, and sparked international reactions and controversy.

In his lecture, the Pope, speaking in German, quoted a passage about Islam made at the end of the 14th century by Byzantine (Eastern Roman) emperor Manuel II Palaiologos. As the English translation of the Pope's lecture was disseminated across the world, the quotation was taken out of context and many Islamic politicians and religious leaders protested against what they saw as an insulting mischaracterization of Islam.

Mass street protests were mounted in many Islamic countries. The Majlis-e-Shoora (Pakistani parliament) unanimously called on the Pope to retract "this objectionable statement". The Pope maintained that the comment he had quoted did not reflect his own views. His statement has been included as a footnote in the official text of the lecture available at Vatican website:

In the Muslim world, this quotation has unfortunately been taken as an expression of my personal position, thus arousing understandable indignation. I hope that the reader of my text can see immediately that this sentence does not express my personal view of the Qur’an, for which I have the respect due to the holy book of a great religion. In quoting the text of the Emperor Manuel II, I intended solely to draw out the essential relationship between faith and reason. On this point I am in agreement with Manuel II, but without endorsing his polemic.

The controversial comment originally appeared in the seventh of the 26 Dialogues Held With A Certain Persian, the Worthy Mouterizes, in Anakara of Galatia, written in 1391 as an expression of the views of Emperor Manuel II, one of the last Christian rulers before the Fall of Constantinople to the Muslim Ottoman Empire, on such issues as forced conversion, holy war, and the relationship between faith and reason. The passage, in the English translation published by the Vatican, was:

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.

A better translation of what appeared as key words politically, "Schlechtes und Inhumanes", would have been "bad and inhumane".

The pope had consulted a critical edition of this dialogue in the original Greek and with French translation.

Contents

Pope Benedict XVI's lecture

The lecture on faith and reason, with references ranging from ancient Jewish and Greek thinking to Protestant theology and modern secularity, focused mainly on Christianity and what Pope Benedict called the tendency to "exclude the question of God" from reason. Islam features in a part of the lecture: the Pope quoted a strong criticism of Islam, which he described as being of a "startling brusqueness, a brusqueness which leaves us astounded".

The author of this criticism was the Byzantine Emperor Manuel II Palaiologos (or Paleologus) in a 1391 dialogue with an "educated Persian" (who remained unnamed in all the dialogues), as well as observations on this argument made by Theodore Khoury, the scholar whose edition of the dialog in question the pontiff was referencing. Pope Benedict used Manuel II's argument in order to draw a distinction between a Christian view, as expressed by Manuel II, that "not acting reasonably is contrary to God's nature", and an allegedly Islamic view, as explained by Khoury, that God transcends concepts such as rationality, and his will, as Ibn Hazm stated, is not constrained by any principle, including rationality.

As a part of his explication of this distinction, Pope Benedict referred to a specific aspect of Islam that Manuel II considered irrational, namely the practice of forced conversion. Specifically, the Pope (making clear that they were the Emperor's words, not his own) quoted Manuel II Palaiologos as saying: "Show me just what Muhammad brought that was new and there you will find things only bad and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached."

The pontiff was comparing apparently contradictory passages from the Qur'an, one being that "There is no compulsion in religion", the other being that it is acceptable to "spread the faith through violence". The pontiff argued the latter teaching to be unreasonable and advocated that religious conversion should take place through the use of reason. His larger point here was that, generally speaking, in Christianity, God is understood to act in accordance with reason, while in Islam, God's absolute transcendence means that "God is not bound even by his own word", and can act in ways contrary to reason, including self-contradiction. At the end of his lecture, the Pope said, "It is to the great logos, to this breadth of reason, that we invite our partners in the dialogue of cultures."

Key paragraphs

Quoted below are the three paragraphs (of sixteen total) which discuss Islam in Pope Benedict's lecture:

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 Palaeologus 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 edited by Professor Khoury, the emperor touches on the theme of the holy war. The emperor must have known that sura 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, a brusqueness that we find unacceptable, on the central question about the relationship between religion and violence in general, saying: "Show me just what Mohammed brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached". The emperor, after having expressed himself so forcefully, goes on to explain in detail the reasons why spreading the faith through violence is something unreasonable. Violence is incompatible with the nature of God and the nature of the soul. "God", he says, "is not pleased by blood — and not acting reasonably 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.

Further reading

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