Fessio on Benedict at Regensburg

Fessio on Benedict at Regensburg

If anybody knows the mind of Pope Benedict it would be Father Joseph Fessio, Sj, a former student of Benedict’s and publisher of his books in English. On the Ignatius Insight web site, Father Fessio unpacks Pope Benedict’s now famous speech at Regensberg to let us all know what’s really on the Pope’s mind. Some people have been saying that this must have been a slip-up by the Pope, that he didn’t realize anyone would be upset, that he meant is inoffensive. I’m not sure that is so, especially after reading Fr. Fessio’s analysis.

It is at this point in the lecture that Benedict makes a statement which cannot be avoided or evaded if there is ever to be any dialogue between Christianity and Islam that is more than empty words and diplomatic gestures. For the Emperor, God’s rationality is “self-evident”. But for Muslim teaching, according to the editor of the book from which Benedict has been quoting, “God is absolutely transcendent. His will is not bound up with any of our categories, even that of rationality”.

Benedict has struck bedrock. This is the challenge to Islam. This is the issue that lies beneath all the rest. If God is above reason in this way, then it is useless to employ rational arguments against (or for) forced conversion, terrorism, or Sharia law, which calls for the execution of Muslim converts to Christianity. If God wills it, it is beyond discussion.

Could we look back someday and say that Regensburg was where the counter-Islamicization began? Here is the point of departure for all theological encounters with Islam and thus all encounters with it. Perhaps here is where we begin to say that all of our demands that all Muslims denounce their violence-wielding brethren is misguided, since even that would be a futile effort. Islam has no internal structure to it, no hierarchy of truths, no magisterial authority and thus it means whatever the local imam says it means or the local sheikh or the leader of the madrasa or the head of a terrorist gang.

Incompatible truth claims

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  • The fact that the “Islamic street” is incensed at the Holy Father’s comments should be of no surprise.  If you asked Christian leaders (Catholic or otherwise), “Did Mohammed really receive revelations from God?” or “Are all the teachings of the Koran correct?” in theory, they should all answer “no.” In the current environment, however, this would be considered “an insult to Islam” and “provocative.” Never mind that such ideas are central to Christianity.

  • I find it interesting that the violent reaction of the Muslims only validates the Pope’s comments.  Calls for “death to the Pope” and “death to the West” hardly puts Islam in a positive light. Yes, I do think the Pope’s speech is a turning point for the world’s view of the Muslims.  I just hope and pray that the Holy Father does not have to suffer any more than he obviously has for it.

  • Interreligious dialogue that acknowledges the parties will have to allow disagreement on some levels is interreligious dialogue with the potential to bring peace via truce instead of peace via compromise.


    I seem to recall trying to convince you of this point a while back. I’m glad you finally agree it’s possible and desirable.