It was the day after Sept. 11.
On Sept. 11, the fifth anniversary of the terrorist attacks on the United States, Benedict XVI prayed for peace with 60,000 pilgrims in Germany. In doing so, he joined mourners all over the world who remembered those killed by Islamic extremists who plowed jet airplanes into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, killing thousands.
Then on Sept. 12 the Holy Father gave a lecture about faith and reason — and the need to reject violence — at the University of Regensburg. In it, he quoted a 14th century emperor’s words about the incompatibility of faith and violence. But he also quoted the emperor’s words about Mohammed, the founder of Islam.
It’s important to get a few things straight. Western media and Islamic leaders seem to have made the same mistake: They assumed that the Pope meant to agree with the assessment of Mohammed from the ancient text he quoted.
This is not what Pope Benedict says.
Pope Benedict took umbrage with Emperor Manuel II’s words even as he delivered them. He said: “[H]e addresses his interlocutor with a startling brusqueness, a brusqueness which leaves us astounded, on the central question about the relationship between religion and violence in general.”
That bold-face emphasis is from the Vatican’s own text on its website.
Benedict goes on to quote Manuel 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.”
Days after delivering the lecture, the Pope reiterated that he disagreed entirely, saying the emperor’s words “do not in any way express my personal thought.”
Catholics need to support the Pope — by agreeing with the Pope, not the media and the imams who misinterpreted him. Pope Benedict doesn’t believe that Islam’s only legacy is violence — and he doesn’t want us to believe that, either.
What does the Church teach about Islam? Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone explained that on his difficult first day as secretary of state for the Holy See.
He didn’t have to strain for words. He just had to quote the Second Vatican Council, which taught:
“The Church regards with esteem also the Muslims. They adore the one God, living and subsisting in himself; merciful and all-powerful, the Creator of heaven and earth, who has spoken to men; they take pains to submit wholeheartedly to even his inscrutable decrees, just as Abraham, with whom the faith of Islam takes pleasure in linking itself, submitted to God. Though they do not acknowledge Jesus as God, they revere him as a prophet. They also honor Mary, his virgin Mother; at times they even call on her with devotion. In addition, they await the day of judgment when God will render their deserts to all those who have been raised up from the dead. Finally, they value the moral life and worship God especially through prayer, almsgiving and fasting” (Nostra Aetate, No. 3).
He could also quote Pope Benedict himself, who said, on his last trip to Germany in August 2005, that a dialogue between Christians and Muslims “cannot be reduced to an optional extra,” adding, “We must seek paths of reconciliation and learn to live with respect for each other’s identity.”
These are the things the Pope believes about Islam, and they are the things we should believe.
It would be easy to focus only on the violence and anger of Islamic extremists, and insist that Manuel II’s words were correct. But a quote from a 14th century emperor in a papal lecture does not replace councils, encyclicals and the Catechism as the Church’s teaching on Islam. Not even when some Muslims seem to want to prove the quote true by their actions.
We should apply the lessons of Sept. 11 to Sept. 12.
On Sept. 11, 2001, there was a clear inverse symmetry between the radical Islamist extremists whose suicide mission destroyed thousands and the regular-guy, mostly Catholic, firemen and rescue workers who gave their lives saving thousands more. On one side, men killed others out of hatred. On the other, the highest expression of Christian love — to lay down one’s life for one’s neighbor — was all in a day’s work.
On Sept. 12, 2006, there was just as clear an inverse symmetry between the worldwide peaceful remembrances of the attacks on the West and the massive conflagration in the East in reaction to an academic lecture.
Christians shouldn’t be drawn into the violent fantasies of thin-skinned bullies. Nor should we be afraid of them. We have a higher way, a way of love.
And we know which God prefers.
- September 24-30, 2006