At First Things George Weigel has a short piece about how Benedict XVI was right in his memorable, controversial Regensburg Lecture in 2006. He has prompted me to go back to review what Benedict said. Weigel gives a précis:
Eight years later, the Regensburg Lecture looks a lot different [i.e., it doesn’t look like Benedict committed a “gaffe”]. Indeed, those who actually read it in 2006 understood that, far from making a “gaffe,” Benedict XVI was exploring with scholarly precision two key questions, the answers to which would profoundly influence the civil war raging within Islam—a war whose outcome will determine whether 21st-century Islam is safe for its own adherents and safe for the world.
The first question was about religious freedom: [Q:] Could Muslims find, within their own spiritual and intellectual resources, Islamic arguments for religious tolerance (including tolerance of those who convert to other faiths)? That desirable development, the pope suggested, might lead over time (meaning centuries) to a more complete Islamic theory of religious freedom.
The second question was about the structuring of Islamic societies: [Q:] Could Muslims find, again from within their own spiritual and intellectual resources, Islamic arguments for distinguishing between religious and political authority in a just state? That equally desirable development might make Muslim societies more humane in themselves and less dangerous to their neighbors, especially if it were linked to an emerging Islamic case for religious tolerance.
Pope Benedict went on to suggest that inter-religious dialogue between Catholics and Muslims might focus on these two linked questions. The Catholic Church, the pope freely conceded, had had its own struggles developing a Catholic case for religious freedom in a constitutionally-governed polity in which the Church played a key role in civil society, but not directly in governance. But Catholicism had finally done so: not by surrendering to secular political philosophy, but by using what it had learned from political modernity in order to reach back into its own tradition, rediscover elements of its thinking about faith, religion, and society that had gotten lost over time, and develop its teaching about the just society for the future.
Was such a process of retrieval-and-development possible in Islam? That was the Big Question posed by Benedict XVI in the Regensburg Lecture. It is a tragedy of historic proportions [NB] that the question was, first, misunderstood, and then ignored. The results of that misunderstanding and that ignorance—and a lot of other misunderstanding and ignorance—are now on grisly display throughout the Middle East: in the decimation of ancient Christian communities; in barbarities that have shocked a seemingly-unshockable West, like the crucifixion and beheading of Christians; in tottering states; in the shattered hopes that the 21st- century Middle East might recover from its various cultural and political illnesses and find a path to a more humane future.
Benedict XVI, I am sure, takes no pleasure in history’s vindication of his Regensburg Lecture. [No “I told you so!” will be forthcoming.] But his critics in 2006 might well examine their consciences about the opprobrium they heaped on him eight years ago. Admitting that they got it wrong in 2006 would be a useful first step in addressing their ignorance of the intra-Islamic civil war that gravely threatens peace in the 21st-century world.
As for the conversation about Islam’s future that Benedict XVI proposed, well, it now seems rather unlikely. But if it’s to take place, Christian leaders must prepare the way by naming, forthrightly, the pathologies of Islamism and jihadism; by ending their ahistorical apologies for 20th-century colonialism (lamely imitating the worst of western academic blather about the Arab Islamic world); and by stating publicly that, when confronted by bloody-minded fanatics like those responsible for the reign of terror that has beset Syria and Iraq this summer, armed force, deployed prudently and purposefully by those with the will and the means to defend innocents, is morally justified.
Is this jihadism and “Islamism” inherent in Islam?
Finally, I note that pundits these days are using more often the term “Islamism” in distinction from “Islam”, I suppose on the theory that “-isms” are bad iterations of a better, pure paradigm.
There comes to mind, therefore, is the traditional prayer of Consecration to the Sacred Heart of Jesus by Pope Leo XIII recited before the Blessed Sacrament on the Last Sunday of October in the traditional Roman calendar, the Feast of Christ the King followed by a Litany and Benediction. This was established by Pius XI in 1925 in his encyclical Quas primas. Let’s see the prayer:
Most sweet Jesus, Redeemer of the human race, look down upon us humbly prostrate before Thine altar. We are Thine, and Thine we wish to be; but, to be more surely united with Thee, behold each one of us freely consecrates himself today to Thy most Sacred Heart.
Many indeed have never known Thee; many too, despising Thy precepts, have rejected Thee. Have mercy on them all, most merciful Jesus, and draw them to Thy sacred Heart. Be Thou King, O Lord, not only of the faithful who have never forsaken Thee, but also of the prodigal children who have abandoned Thee; grant that they may quickly return to Thy Father’s house lest they die of wretchedness and hunger.
Be Thou King of those who are deceived by erroneous opinions, or whom discord keeps aloof, and call them back to the harbor of truth and unity of faith, so that there may be but one flock and one Shepherd.
Be Thou King of all those who are still involved in the darkness of idolatry or of Islamism, and refuse not to draw them into the light and kingdom of God. Turn Thine eyes of mercy towards the children of the race, once Thy chosen people: of old they called down upon themselves the Blood of the Savior; may it now descend upon them a laver of redemption and of life.
Grant, O Lord, to Thy Church assurance of freedom and immunity from harm; give peace and order to all nations, and make the earth resound from pole to pole with one cry: “Praise be to the divine Heart that wrought our salvation; to it be glory and honor for ever.” Amen.
This prayer has fallen out of favor. It doesn’t pull any punches. But I like very much the reference to Islamism.
This prayer was also recited at my home parish St. Agnes in St. Paul, MN, every Tuesday evening after the Novena to Our Lady of Perpetual Help. It was great to hear the clauses roll along, recited by the whole congregation, most of whom knew it by heart, as I came to in those days. These prayers become part of you. They shape identity.
If you are interested in learning more, I have a 2009 PODCAzT about the prayer and Leo XIII’s Annum sacrum HERE.
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