September 22, 2006


“The Axis of the Sacred“ and interreligious criticism. Byzantium in Regensburg (Pietro De Marco, 9/22/06, Chiesa)

John Paul II’s constant – and productive, contrary to many forecasts – practice of paying attention to Islamic sensibilities, as well as the objective convergence of the Holy See and the Muslim world on the issues of bioethics (beginning with what was called the “clash in Cairo” in 1994) seem to Benedict XVI to be secure achievements. From now on, he wants to open a new phase in relations with Islam. He is asking Islamic subjectivity for an increase of self-critical understanding. In other words, the pope wants to integrate whatever there is of reciprocal trust between the Church and the greater Islamic community, which has been laboriously achieved on pragmatic grounds, with the first attempt at a true and proper dialogue, which is something more than coexistence without open conflict.

This attempt at dialogue concerns the premises above all. One of these is the choice of a common terrain of reason. The second, which is almost a corollary, concerns militant faith. We know that militant faith is not pathological, but is an integral part of the salvation religions. But Islam must – according to pope Benedict – critically renounce the current violent and warmongering version of “jihad.” So it is that the “Dialogues with a Mohammedan” – contentious discussions between a Christian, the Byzantine emperor Manuel II Paleologos, and a learned Persian, composed by Manuel at the tremendous conjuncture of the end of the fourteenth century, during the years when Constantinople was under siege and help was sought in vain from Europe – seemed to Benedict XVI a perfect example upon which to focus. For the emperor, reflection upon the essential, which is the encounter of biblical law and Qur’anic law, was not made implausible by the fact that the enemy was looming. The urbane sovereign nonetheless thought of relations with the opposing and conquering religion as an encounter of truths.

At the same time, war-waging Islam was not assuaged, but in the seventh “Dialogue” it was traced back through the argumentation to its founder, Mohammed, in order to ask the Persian participant for a response (which would be extended and important, see “Dialogue” 7:5a-5d). In short, if the encounter between faiths did not dissimulate the presence of weapons, the armies of the sultan on the Bosphorus did not prevent posing the decisive question on the terrain of rational examination.

Pope Benedict wants, then, to tell his Islamic listener today that Christianity and the West know that Islam is armed and, in part, at war; and that they will be able to respond to this, as has already happened, after and notwithstanding the fall of Constantinople. But the pope is pointing out in the first place to the faith and the doctrine of men and cultures that the terrain of the encounter of truth and for truth is different. It is that of the “Logos.” But Islam has also practiced the “Logos,” and at the service of faith, for centuries and everywhere, from Andalusia to Baghdad, from Cairo to Persia.

He puts that an awful lot better than the Pope did.

Posted by Orrin Judd at September 22, 2006 7:59 AM

The conflict between Islam and the Vatican has faith at its center. The conflict between Islam and the West does not.

Posted by: Bartman at September 22, 2006 10:07 AM

Of course it does--that's why the secular states bailed on the fight.

Posted by: oj at September 22, 2006 10:17 AM

Which is not in their best interests. The forces of the faith-centered movement won't rest. I don't udnerstand the West - especialy Europe's - lack of motivation.

Posted by: Bartman at September 22, 2006 10:53 AM

What interest does a secular have in the future? Or anything beyond himself, for that matter?

Posted by: oj at September 22, 2006 11:04 AM

Well, you do have a point there.

Posted by: Bartman at September 22, 2006 11:29 AM

Wow. So he's posing a two pronged response to the current situation? First, armed resistance to the Jihad. And Second, a dialogue with those who wish it. That is conceptually appealing. I hope W grabs hold of it.

Of course, note the difference between our situation and poor Paleologos. We can easily destroy the Muslims at our doorstep. In fact, they are merely enduring their own death throes.

Posted by: pepys at September 22, 2006 3:29 PM