12 Sept: 5th anniversary of Pope Benedict’s Regensburg Address

On the site of Ignatius Insight we are reminded:

Today is the fifth anniversary …

… of Pope Benedict XVI’s now famous lecture at the University of Regensburg, where he once taught theology—a lecture that is, I think it is safe to say, considered his most controversial and polarizing public utterance as pontiff.

But, in reflecting on what the Pope said five years ago, a few simple questions are in order for, well, anyone interested in the topic:

1. What is the Regensburg Address considered so controversial and, by some, so tone deaf and insensitive?
2. What did Benedict XVI actually say about Islam?
3. What, in a sentence or two, was the central thesis/point of the Address?
4. Who or what is criticized the most heavily in the Address? For what?
5. Have you actually read the Address?


2500th Anniversary of the Battle of Marathon and 328th Anniversary of the Battle of Vienna.

Three of the sixteen paragraphs of the Regensburg Address:


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 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 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.


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  1. Ioannes Andreades says:

    It’s deeply troubling that so many Muslims flipped out with such unreasonable hatred. Too bad such irrational Muslims did not respond more like the educated Persian.

  2. contrarian says:

    1. [Why] is the Regensburg Address considered so controversial and, by some, so tone deaf and insensitive?
    For those who haven’t read it, what is controversial is the passing remarks about Islam. For those who have read it and disagree with it, it is controversial because of what it says about the schizophrenia of contemporary philosophical, theological, and scientific methodology.

    2. What did Benedict XVI actually say about Islam?

    Very little! He merely used it as an example of a theological system that has, at times, been divorced from what he calls Hellenism, which Benedict uses as a placeholder for a certain sort of philosophical system that recognizes more ‘enchanted’ ontologies. Then again, as Benedict goes on to say, so is much if not all ‘philosophical’ and ‘scientific’ thought today is as void of basic Hellenistic principles as any overtly voluntaristic system like (some brands) of Islam.

    3. What, in a sentence or two, was the central thesis/point of the Address?

    Contemporary theological, scientific, and theological methodologies reinforce each other in their ‘conflated’ methodologies. Whether a believer or not, many today fail to properly take account of some of the basic facts about the transcendent status of mind and world that many in the ancient Greek tradition took as self-evident.

    4. Who or what is criticized the most heavily in the Address? For what?

    Contemporary thinking, in whatever guise (philosophical, theological, or scientific). We assume disenchantment and not the ‘grandeur of reason’, and herefore problem-solve about nature’s puzzling phenomena, from a place that will impossibly reconcile the mundane with the divine, resulting either in eliminativism (mind reduces to matter, ethics reduces to ‘secular’ theory), fideism (the compartmentalization of ‘sources’), or voluntarism (God says so, and God can say whatever he wants!) . Benedict says we’ll get screwy answers if this is our starting point. Suffice it to say, Benedict is correct.

    5. Have you actually read the Address?

    No. (I kid!)

  3. FranzJosf says:

    Over at at National Review Online, Samuel Gregg has a great post entitled, “Benedict at Regensburg: Why It Still Matters.”

    Among other things, he writes, “To say that Benedict XVI’s Regensburg lecture was one of this century’s pivotal speeches is probably an understatement.”


  4. chcrix says:

    But Father, but Father —

    “Show me just what Mohammed brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman…”

    This is the key passage – as mistranslated on the Vatican website.

    “Zeig mir doch, was Mohammed Neues gebracht hat, und da wirst du nur Schlechtes und Inhumanes finden..”

    Schlechtes und inhumanes should be translated as something like “inferior and inhumane”.

    Paleologus is just saying that Mohammed is not bringing anything new to the discussion that isn’t either mediocre or somewhat cruel.

  5. Alan Aversa says:

    The Regensberg Lecture has definitely been the most pivotal speech so far in Pope Benedict XVI’s pontificate. It beats even the Christmas 2005 speech to the Roman Curia (the “hermeneutic of continuity speech”), although that one, too, discusses faith and reason.

    His solution to the faith and reason problem is, in its details, self-defeating; as his “Hermeneutic of Continuity Speech” said:

    The steps the Council took towards the modern era which had rather vaguely been presented as “openness to the world”, belong in short to the perennial problem of the relationship between faith and reason that is re-emerging in ever new forms. The situation that the Council had to face can certainly be compared to events of previous epochs.

    In his First Letter, St Peter urged Christians always to be ready to give an answer (apo-logia) to anyone who asked them for the logos, the reason for their faith (cf. 3: 15).

    This meant that biblical faith had to be discussed and come into contact with Greek culture and learn to recognize through interpretation the separating line but also the convergence and the affinity between them in the one reason, given by God.

    When, in the 13th century through the Jewish and Arab philosophers, Aristotelian thought came into contact with Medieval Christianity formed in the Platonic tradition and faith and reason risked entering an irreconcilable contradiction, it was above all St Thomas Aquinas who mediated the new encounter between faith and Aristotelian philosophy, thereby setting faith in a positive relationship with the form of reason prevalent in his time [So he thinks human reason evolves over time?]. There is no doubt that the wearing dispute between modern reason and the Christian faith, which had begun negatively with the Galileo case, went through many phases, but with the Second Vatican Council the time came when broad new thinking was required.

    Its content was certainly only roughly traced in the conciliar texts, but this determined its essential direction, so that the dialogue between reason and faith, particularly important today, found its bearings on the basis of the Second Vatican Council.

    The problem with this is that Pope Benedict XVI thinks there needs to be a new St. Thomas Aquinas to reconcile our faith with "modern reason," viz., with what Pope Pius IX and Pope Pius X, respectively, condemned: Catholicism is compatible with modern civilization (Syllabus of Errors, 80.) and Catholicism is incompatible with true science (Lamentabili Sane, 65.); hence, modern civilization and true science are incompatible. Therefore, Pope Benedict XVI's hope for a new St. Thomas Aquinas and a reconciliation with "modern reason" is futile.

    Cf. also “Faith Imperiled by Reason.”

  6. Gail F says:

    Alan Aversa: I have no idea what you mean about a hope for a new St. Thomas Aquinas being futile.

    No. 5: Yes, I read it — five years ago. So I am not going to comment on it without reading it again. However, anyone interested should check out Fr. Jim Schall, SJ,’s book on the speech. I believe it’s called, creatively, “The Regensburg Lecture.” Schall thinks it is an extremely important address. But then, he is himself a sort of modern-day Thomas Aquinas, so he would.

  7. Imrahil says:

    It was interesting that Benedict held his lecture; the day after, we discussed the Pope’s visit in religion class with our teacher remarking this lecture as the most important part of it (which then ran somewhat contrary to general impression), and only one day later, it seems to have dawned to some that there are remarks about Islam apt for a protest. I would not at all be surprised if Western journalists publicized the fear of Muslim protesters before there actually were Muslim protesters. Especially, dear @chcrix, the passage (though wrongly translated, yes) is by no means a key passage of the lecture.

    Dear @Alan Aversa, the Syllabus says “The sentence ‘The Roman Pope can and must reconcile and unite himself with progress, liberalism and modern civilisation’ is wrong.” That leaves open as uncondemned the positions that the Pope a) “can do so, but must retain his freedom not to do so”, b) “would be obliged to do so if this were at any rate possible, but it isn’t”, c) “can not at all do so”.
    Even if we’d choose the position “he cannot do so” as axiom (which the Syllabus does not demand), this’d only say that modern civilization be to a high degree inacceptable. It can not mean that all things which come from modern civilization be not even worthy of being tested for compatibility with Catholic faith.

    That modern science is not true science is wrong as well. Its self-set limitations may be wrong; its results may of course be wrong; its principles may be insufficient though not wrong; but still what it does do is scientific and, as long as no mistake intervenes, objectively true. This is about as much as you can ask.

    Reconciling faith with reason includes saying precisely where modern science has gone wrong. It needs not presuppose a science that is right anywhere; otherwise, it’d not be worth the try, practically speaking.

  8. Imrahil says:

    Not saying, of course, that there is no unscientific propaganda disguising itself as science. What to do with such things is uncover them as such.

  9. bbmoe says:

    I re-read it yesterday for the 3rd time. I’m going to do a poor paraphrase here, but basically the Regensburg address sums up the essential difference between Christianity and nearly all other world views: that God is logos and love, and that denying either or both qualities leads you away from your true humanity towards darkness. He uses the conversation between the Persian interlocutor and Manuel II to show that Christianity has been encountering (and battling) this world view for a very long time and in many forms. To me it was less directed at Islam so much as to show that modern thought has some fundamentals in common with a faith that strips human reason of its validity.

    What is most heavily criticized in this speech is the trend of dehellenization, the scholarship or modes of understanding Christianity that seeks to strip it of its Greek influences as “inauthentic.” For Benedict, this goes to the heart of logos, because that concept was originally a Greek one and is truly foundational for our understanding of our relationship to God. He shows that it is actually “inauthentic” to deny that Greek thought helped to shape, or rather articulate reasonably the theology that developed from what the Apostles heard and saw and then wrote down. Readers of this blog know better than I do, but I’ve heard it said that Christianity is the only religion with a theology because we believe that God wants us to know Him. If God were not Logos, that would be an oxymoron. So dehellenization is a terribly destructive notion.

  10. Imrahil says:

    As a side note to dear @bbmoe’s very fine comment, Benedict XVI says in his introduction to the Introduction to Christianity: That Christianity came to Greece first was the plan of Providence, and this can perhaps be traced in the vision “Come to Macedonia and help us” which the Acts of the Apostles report. (paraphrase)

  11. Supertradmum says:

    I just quoted the lecture to a student friend a few days ago. The lecture was brilliant and Father Schall’s book is very good. This Pope, over and over, has emphasized the Rational Capacity of humans. Benedict XVI’s appeal to the intelligence, rational discourse of which we are all capable, as being made in the Image and Likeness of God, has been continual and consistent. That the Islamic study group walked out of Rome last year, refusing to carry on discussions about Islam and Catholicism, is another indication of the fact that this religion cannot bear scrutiny or rational criticism. As I pointed out here before, the Islamic idea of “abrogation” and the doctrine that the Koran is an “unmediated” revelation stop all rational discussion. One, as a Muslim, cannot question either Allah, or the Koran. That the Will of God is paramount can be questioned by the contradictions in the Koran itself. The Pope, by referring to the ancient question of violence, was referring in part to some of these sections. There is a block of fear and irrationality, both not seen by the true Islamist, because fear is the normal relationship one has with Allah, (he is not a loving Father), and irrationality falls under the inability of humans to understand the transcendent God. All Catholics must read the Regensburg Lectures and good commentaries in order to not only be intelligent Catholics, but refute the classic arguments of the Islamist, is any allow discussion.

  12. pfreddys says:

    I recall one of the headlines analyzing the uproar after this address that made me laugh: “German professor encounters sound bite culture.”

  13. Jeremiah says:

    1. Because our Holy Father is daring to act as what he is: A Father to all of humanity. Just as the bishop is bishop over even the non-Catholics in his diocese, so the Holy Father must continually call the whole world to Christ. In this age of “tolerance,” that makes people uncomfortable. Especially in the west, there is a new immaturity to the culture which rails against the father figure (perhaps especially since there are so many fathers missing?).

    2. That it has truth, and in the notes that it is a great religion (though without looking at the original, I don’t know if that means vast, or, good, or…)

    3. We have fallen prey to the dictatorship of relativism, and assumed that what is old cannot be true. If we are to make true progress, authentic progress befitting our dignity as human, we must reclaim the Greek heritage of the western world, and remove the false limitations that we have put on ourselves.

    4. “Christian Europe,” more generally, the “Christian West,” or more forcefully, “Apostate Christendom.” One seeks to instruct the ignorant, but admonishment is proper to one who has accepted the truth and the rejected it. Perhaps this is my own reading into the text, but I would paraphrase this lecture thus: “You have inherited the truth, and the means of acquisition of the truth, but have squandered it in the name of ‘Progress.’ Return to your inheritance, and claim what is rightly yours!”

    His Holiness rightly identifies the the recent start of this being in the reformation. To paraphrase Dr. Kreeft, Occam’s razor was used to slice apart faith and reason, yielding the scientism against which this lecture is primarily focused (elevation of empirical reason to the negation of all else), but also the protestant elevation of faith (or the scriptures) to the negation of all else.

    5. Yes, finally.

  14. Alan Aversa says:

    @Gail F: What I mean by a “new St. Thomas” is one who would invent a new philosophy and theology compatible with “modern reason” that would make the philosophy and theology of the “old St. Thomas” obsolete. Certainly there can be a deepening of Thomistic thought, but we must not completely abandon it in favor of modern “wisdom.”

    Pope John Paul II, definitely a Thomist who saw the limitations in his phenomenology/personalism approach, nevertheless seems to agree that there needs to be a “new St. Thomas Aquinas,” too, because in Fides et Ratio 78. he thinks we should only imitate St. Thomas Aquinas’s method, not adopt his very principles (my emphasis):

    78. It should be clear in the light of these reflections why the Magisterium has repeatedly acclaimed the merits of Saint Thomas’ thought and made him the guide and model for theological studies. This has not been in order to take a position on properly philosophical questions nor to demand adherence to particular theses. The Magisterium’s intention has always been to show how Saint Thomas is an authentic model for all who seek the truth. In his thinking, the demands of reason and the power of faith found the most elevated synthesis ever attained by human thought, for he could defend the radical newness introduced by Revelation without ever demeaning the venture proper to reason.

    Pope Paul VI thought otherwise in his speech on the 700th anniversary of the death of St. Thomas Aquinas, Lumen Ecclesiæ 29. (my emphasis):

    […] to be a faithful disciple of St. Thomas today, it is not enough to want to do in our time and with the means available today that which he did in his. Contenting oneself with imitating him, like walking on a parallel street without anything to draw from him, one would with difficulty arrive at a positive result or, at least, offer to the Church and to the world that contribution of wisdom which they need. One cannot, in fact, speak of true and fecund loyalty if one does not receive, almost from his own hands, his principles, which act as beacons shedding light on the most important problems of philosophy and rendering the faith more intelligible to our age. Thomas’s main positions and dynamic ideas must likewise be accepted. Only so, the thought of the Angelic Doctor, confronted always with new contributions of profane science, will meet—through a sort of mutual osmosis—a new, thriving, lively development.

    In Aquino, Pope Paul VI said to its inhabitants (“Talk of Pope Paul VI in Aquino, September 14, 1974“):

    You do not claim to vie with him in wisdom or to follow in the steps of his vocation, either religious or intellectual. No one can claim to keep step with such a Master! But all of us who are faithful sons of the Church can and must be his disciples, at least to some extent! We will do this if we give to our religious instruction and formation the importance it deserves to have.

    Cf. to Pope Benedict XVI’s recent speech to the bishops in India.

  15. Alan Aversa says:

    @Imrahil: The proposition “The Roman Pontiff can, and ought to, reconcile himself, and come to terms with progress, liberalism and modern civilization” is condemned. That means the Roman Pontiff cannot (does not have the ability to) and must not (ought not try) to “reconcile himself, and come to terms with progress, liberalism and modern civilization.”

    Reconciling faith with reason includes saying precisely where modern science has gone wrong. It needs not presuppose a science that is right anywhere; otherwise, it’d not be worth the try, practically speaking.

    I never said modern science was not true science. Is not it true as long as it conforms to reality and does not contradict the faith?

  16. bbmoe says:

    Alan: “conforms” to reality, or admits that there is a reality that it cannot measure? This is the crux of the philosophical debate with respect to modern science. Philosophically and by many modern scientist’s definition, “modern” science is Cartesian and cannot admit to a truth that it cannot measure (see Benedict: Regensburg.)

  17. Mixolydian says:

    Pope Benedict was, in effect, offering a peace branch to Islam with this talk! He urged Islam to consider his Logos Theology and reflect upon the idea of meaning / reason in light of their own faith. I always thought that the talk was more of an invitation to reflection than anything else. It’s incredible that one line might overshadow an otherwise fine work of theology.

  18. jarthurcrank says:

    Benedict to Islamic Terrorist: “What’s this I hear about you slaughtering infidels?”

    Islamic Terrorist: But, but, but….

    Benedict: Never mind the buts – here’s my card. Look me up at my Regensburg Address.

  19. UncleBlobb says:

    “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”

    I haven’t read the whole address, and am may be missing something. But I ask: did the Pope include this statement because HE thinks it to be true, not just for background?

  20. bbmoe says:

    UncleBlobb: read the whole thing. He was using the exchange to illustrate the point that Christianity, and Western Civilization generally, are based on a premise, that God is Logos, that God is love. Violent conversion denies both, and so disproves what Muhammed claimed about his religion. Benedict goes on to say that modern scientific thought and philosophy also deny the supremacy of Logos by saying that the only reality is that which can be shown empirically.

    As a proposition, I think that it’s correct that Islam does not have the same understanding of God that Christianity does. In Islam, Allah is pure will: Allah can contradict himself, change his mind, and command that his adherents lie about their belief in him. This I know from Muslims who consider it their calling to educate others about their faith, so I’m not engaging in any smears. I haven’t heard what Benedict believes but he uses this quote as background. Still, read the address.

  21. UncleBlobb says:

    @bbmoe: Thanks for that! And thanks as always Fr. Z!

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