National Catholic Register


From Regensburg to the Annals of History

After Pope Benedict XVI gave his speech at the University of Regensburg in Germany, many editorialists welcomed his call for dialogue with Muslims


December 10-16, 2006 Issue | Posted 12/7/06 at 10:00 AM


After Pope Benedict XVI gave his speech at the University of Regensburg in Germany, many editorialists welcomed his call for dialogue with Muslims — despite the violence and protests in Islamic communities around the world that followed.

Very little has been reported, however, on the entire speech or that its main subject was not specifically about Islam but about reason and the need for dialogue between the different faiths.

What upset the Muslim community was a quote by the Byzantine Emperor Manuel II Paleologus that the Pope used to illustrate the need for rational communication:

“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 emperor was having a dialogue with an educated Persian on the subject of Christianity and Islam and the structures of faith contained in the Bible and in the Koran. The emperor went on to explain in detail the reason why spreading the faith through violence is unreasonable. “Violence is incompatible,” the Pope said, “with the nature of God and the nature of the soul.”

It is a pity that the Holy Father’s words were so grossly misunderstood that they inspired the very violence that warranted Emperor Manuel’s harsh words centuries ago. As Cardinal Ratzinger, he had been delivering this message for decades. And his speech was not meant to inspire hatred but to suggest a solution to the conflicts between our cultures.

On Nov. 20, I attended a presentation at the United Nations to introduce the release of what is probably one of the most pertinent books to these troubled times — Christianity and the Crisis of Cultures. A distinguished panel was assembled to explain the significance of this work, which was written before Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was elected to the chair of the Vicar of Christ. Its members included George Weigel, senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, and Sen. Marcello Sera of the Italian Republic. The conference was moderated by Marco Bardazzi of the Italian news agency Ansa and sponsored by the Path to Peace Foundation.

While the book itself is not very large, nearly every sentence in it is profound and invites deep intellectual contemplation. Weigel simplified the essence of Christianity and the Crisis of Cultures by noting the four points Cardinal Ratzinger had been making for decades as he warned of the dangerous path Western civilization was headed down.

Weigel highlighted four of Crisis’ key points.

— We live in a moment of dangerous imbalance in the relationship between the West’s technological capabilities and the West’s moral understanding.

— The moral and political lethargy we sense in much of Europe today is one of Europe’s disdain for the Christian roots of its unique civilization.

— The abandonment of Europe’s Christian roots implies the abandonment of the idea of “Europe” as a civilization enterprise constructed from the fruitful interaction of Jerusalem, Athens and Rome.

— The recovery of reason in the West would be facilitated by a reflection that the Christian concept of God as Logos helped shape the distinct civilization of the West as a synthesis of Athens, Jerusalem and Rome.”

Sera, who wrote the introduction to Christianity and the Crisis of Cultures (which is published in this country by Ignatius Press), said “the Pope’s book contains, to the best of my knowledge, one of the most penetrating analyses of our modern Western culture and, to the best of my conscience, the most promising therapy against its malaise. This is to say that I consider Pope Benedict XVI not only a deep intellectual analyst of our condition but a spiritual and moral guide to whom we all should pay the greatest attention.”

The senator further clarified what the word “dialogue” means as used by Cardinal Ratzinger in the book. It does not mean a polite conversation or discussion; it is a much more demanding term. As Christians, he said, we believe in the God of Abraham and Jesus as his only Son. Our God is a God of love who would never order the death of innocents.

Christianity, therefore, is incompatible with Islam as practiced by the jihadists. However, we can dialogue on the consequences of our faiths on human rights. This also means that one need not be one of faith to enter into this discourse.

Sera writes that, since ours is an age of agnosticism, relativism, disenchantment and presumption, this is one more reason to accept the proposal the Pope makes to those outside the Church.

I came away from this enlightening conference with great respect for the wisdom and courage of our Pope. He is a man of tremendous intellect and, if his words are heeded, he may have as big an effect on our world as John Paul II had in ending the Cold War.

Once again, the College of Cardinals has done an excellent job.

Alicia Colon is a columnist

for the New York Sun.