Monday, May 26, 2014

The Regenburg Lecture

Pope Benedict XVI delivered a university lecture on September 12, 2006  at the university he once taught at in Regensburg, Germany. This lecture created a fire-storm in the Muslim world. Fr. Schall, in his book, The Regensburg Lecture, believes this violent outburst in the Muslim world "overshadowed" many of the crucial points made by Pope Benedict. The pope's lecture "called for freedom of conscience in religious matters and a reasoned debate. Not everyone agreed." Schall's book seeks to cover the main points of the pope's lecture and its implications for today. The entirety of the pope's lecture is included in appendix one of this book.

Schall's book is divided into five chapters, an introduction, and a conclusion. In chapter one, the author explains what is a university lecture. Schall makes many important points in this chapter. Schall notes, "But an academic lecture itself, in principle, even when delivered by a pope, must remain what it is, a reflective, reasoned presentation of the truth as understood and formulated by a free man. It is given before an audience prepared and willing peacefully to listen and consider this argument as presented" (20). The pope was presenting a reasoned argument that he thought that was crucial to hear in our time. If we cannot present reasoned arguments in the university, where can we?

The firestorm resulted from the pope's reference to a historical document in the 14th century. The Byzantine emperor had posed a question to a Persian gentleman. The basic question asked by the emperor is a prominent question even in our own day: "Is violence justified on the grounds of religious purpose?" (24). Is it right to spread Islam through the sword? Here are the words from Pope Benedict's lecture:

"[The Emperor] addresses his interlocutor [the Persian gentleman] with a startling brusqueness, a brusqueness which leaves us astounded on the central question about the relationship between religion and violence in general, saying, 'Show me just what Mohammad 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'" (26). This is a question the West continues to ask today: Does Islam authorizes the spread of the faith by violence? The pope as the Byzantine emperor thought this was an important question. Is it permissible for this question to be asked in the university.

It is easy to lose sight that this historical reference is only a small part of the book. One might wonder why the pope did not leave it out. Probably, because he thought it must be addressed in our time. The pope showed himself a man of courage by bringing it forth. There are many other points in the pope's lecture that must be heard, and that is why Schall wrote this book.

Another important theme in the pope's lecture is the relationship between faith and reason. Chapters four and five of Schall's book discusses the interactions of Christian and Greek thought, and the relationship between revelation and culture.
Was it right for early Christian thinkers to baptize Greek thought? Must the church be de-Hellenized? These are some of the questions addressed by Schall in chapter 4. The pope argues against the attempts at de-Hellenization: "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 the faith itself." (112). Schall adds, "The effort to get behind the hellenization of Christianity to a pure form without this presumed burden of reason is itself contrary to the workings of the faith in its initial and formative period." Schall and the pope believe that faith and reason complement each other. Faith needs reason and reason needs faith.

Another issue addressed by the pope is the similarities of the stress on voluntarism in Muslim thought and some Protestant groups. These groups emphasize God's will over His mind. God can give arbitrary and opposing command and it will still be right and must be obeyed. It is that old dilemma noted by Plato: is the command right because God commanded it or does command it because it is right? The pope writes this about the divine intellect:
"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. . . God does not become more divine when we push him away from us in 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" (123). The pope is saying that God's moral law must bear some resemblance to our moral sense. There are certain things a moral God can and cannot command based on the moral law. The idea that God can command an immoral act just does not make sense according to the pope's thinking. There are certain things God will not do based on his Holy character. The pope argues against the extreme voluntarism in Muslim thought and some Protestant traditions.

The Regensburg Lecture was an important address given by Pope Benedict. I am glad that Schall wrote a book explaining the lecture and including the lecture in his book. Both the book and the lecture makes important points for our time. It is recommended for all readers.

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