Fostering the Regensburg Insight


Editorial FAITH Magazine January-February 2007

A New Dialogue of Faith and Reason

An increasing number of Christian, Islamic and secular leaders and opinion formers have entered the dialogue concerning the content of the Pope’s 12th
September Regensburg address. Numerous perceptive Catholic commentators on both sides of the Atlantic have drawn out in various helpful ways the importance of this phenomenon.

The Pope has reaffirmed the Catholic tradition concerning the harmony of Faith and Reason, as most recently and beautifully dealt with in Pope John Paul II’s encyclical letter Fides et Ratio. He has powerfully brought this to bear upon the increasingly powerful global cultures of secularism and Islam.

He argued that our understanding of the world around us, not least through modern science, necessarily points to something beyond the objects which we understand. Otherwise our trust in reason is not justified. Any culture, such as those mentioned above, which does not deeply cohere with this fact will have weak foundations and inherent dangers.

As we have highlighted before, there is a relevant dimension of Fides et Ratio which has not been meditated upon enough in the public square. In order to perform the task which Pope Benedict has entered upon John Paul II calls philosophers “not to abandon … the audacity to forge new paths … willingly to run risks” (56). “… we face a great challenge at the end of this millennium to move from phenomenon to foundation, a step as necessary as it is urgent.” (83)

God, Man and Matter: The Christian Synthesis

In a similarly rarely quoted passage from the conclusion of the Regensburg address Pope Benedict says something comparable. His argument, he says,

“has nothing to do with putting the clock back to the time before the Enlightenment and rejecting the insights of the modern age.… The intention here is not one of retrenchment or of negative criticism, but of broadening our concept of reason and its application.… We will succeed in doing so only if reason and faith come together in a new way…” (para. 15, our numbering from the Vatican website’s English version.)

His overall argument practices what he preaches. He tentatively puts into action his “urgent” call to enable “reason and faith (to) come together in a new way” in order to reaffirm human dignity and to avoid the “dangers” of the new global village. He depicts the essential “correspondence” between the intrinsic nature of “God”, of the human “spirit” and “of matter” (para. 16).

He does this in two stages. Firstly he highlights that scriptural revelation affirms the rational nature of God, contrary to influential Islamic theology. Secondly he highlights that scientific 'revelation' affirms our rational nature and matter’s “rational structure” contrary to influential “dehellenized” philosophy.
Neither the former (neo-Platonic) theology nor the latter (nominalist) philosophy can support the fundamental dignity of rational man and so enable us to “become capable of that genuine dialogue of cultures and religions so urgently needed today.” (para.15).

Perhaps the Church, not least since the Pope’s encouraging visit to the complicated culture of Turkey, could be the locus for enabling a fruitful encounter between ever-more dominant western secularism and resurgent Islamic culture.

The Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Bertone, recently announced the active strengthening and encouragement of diplomatic, academic, and cultural links with majority Muslim countries. He wrote in a piece for 30 Days magazine: “it is necessary to follow through and intensify this road of dialogue with the thinking elites, in the hope of gradually reaching the masses, to change mentalities and to educate consciences.” (our translation).

The Catholic Vision

The heart of the Pope’s lecture was to point out that the dignity of man as a rational and free creature is necessarily based upon us being in the image of the divine creator. There is an intimate relationship between the reason or “logos” of man and the logos of God. Such “Logos” the Pope explains, means “both reason and word, a reason which is creative and capable of self-communication.” (para.5) Our knowing and loving of our world is an imaging of and so a discovery of the knowing and loving of the Creator of the world.

This was the genius of the early Church’s synthesis of Greek thought and scriptural revelation. The best Greek philosophy intuited that the human logos discovers evidence of a higher, founding Logos. Judaeo-Christianity reveals something that is in harmony with this Greek inference. “In the beginning was the Logos and the Logos was with God and the Logos was God … all things were made through Him.” (Jn 1:1-3). “This inner rapprochement between biblical faith and (critically purified) Greek philosophical inquiry… remains the foundation of what can rightly be called Europe” (para. 8).

The logos was made flesh (Jn 1:14) that he might fulfil the personality of each of us, spirit and flesh. Our minds and hearts are made for Him. Such a destiny reveals the grand dignity of human nature. Fr Luiz Ruscillo offers a profound reflection upon the unique quality of this scriptural revelation and its fulfilment of the Hebrew insights later in this issue. Pope Benedict suggested that prominent Islamic theology and modern philosophy of science are examples of the watering down of the crucial insight that the truthfulness and value of all rationality and freedom flows from the objective Logos of God. Both thought systems cut the intelligibility of human personality from its intelligible foundations. This reduction undermines the rational objectivity and fundamental dignity of man. Ifreason and mutual respect become undermined so is the motivation for respectful dialogue, and so the possibility of multi-cultural harmony.

A New Synthesis of Science and Religion

As the subtitle of this magazine shows, we are very interested in such a diagnosis of the developing global crisis. From some of the ideas we have received and developed we would introduce something about the relevance of modern scientific methodology and discovery to what might be called “The Regensburg Project”.

This means flagging up a negative aspect of Greek philosophy. Relativistic and Islamic thought have been furthered by opposite extremes of the Indo-Greek dualistic world-view. Broadly speaking, prominent Greek thought saw the cosmos as existing in a tension of the Many and the One, Diversity and Unity, lack of order and order, change and stability, individuality and ‘formality’. Again painting broad strokes, modern individualistic and relativistic thought emphasizes the former metaphysical dimension of these pairings to the exclusion of the latter. Neo-Platonic, idealistic and Islamic thought emphasizes the latter to the exclusion of the former. The Pope sees in modern relativism a “dehellenization” concerning the relevance of unity and formality to human experience. Islamic theologymight then be seen as an ‘over-hellenization’ concerning the unity of the absolute.

Western thinking has been crying out for a profound philosophical synthesizing of the unresolved duality. We think modern scientific insight, in conjunction with Judaeo-Christian revelation, offers a way forward. The One and the Many are in profound harmony within creation, organized indeed by the Mind of the Creator, and known by and developed through our minds. Through such a vision we can give a significant impulse to the potent Regensburg insight.

Islam and the Nature of God

To justify this point it is worth exploring the Pope’s reflections concerning the inadequacies of both Islamic and post-Enlightenment thought before the Greco-Christian idea of logos. Then we can show how, we believe, modern science can help us clinch the argument, and help to furnish a new vision for a new world. Pope Benedict was describing a type of harmony between the reason of God and the reason of Man that is beyond mainstream Muslim theology. In the same way it is beyond the vision of the neo-Platonism of thinkers following Plotinus, the Egyptian-born Roman philosopher of the third century after Christ. He took the Platonic superiority and juxtaposition of the universal “Form” over and against the realm of individuals and of concrete matter to an extreme degree. Absolute being wasunknowably and indivisibly One and beyond all categories, even that of “being”. Such neo-Platonism became the dominant Islamic philosophy in the three centuries after Mohammed, though its appropriateness was then disputed within Islam.

Islam seems to exclude any vision in which our minds and hearts can be said to have an intrinsic orientation to the inner life of God. For we cannot and do not know anything about the intrinsic nature of God. This flows from the absolute, unqualified, transcendent oneness of God. This whole approach was a development upon Surah 112, which is regarded as the most valuable section of the Koran. It is Mohammed’s definition of God:

“In the name of God most Gracious, most merciful, say: He is God the One and Only; God, the Eternal, Absolute; he begetteth not, nor is he begotten; and
there is none like unto Him.”

It is anathema that God can give Himself to us in a way that fulfils and completes our free rationality. No more can the infinite be finite (or three equal one).

A Vital Debate Within Islam

Benedict points out that such monotheism has led to a view of the absolute where reason takes second place to divine Will. This is a form of “voluntarism”, that school of thought which makes the absolute Will more important and foundational to creation than knowledge.

“Allah’s “will is not bound up with any of our categories, even that of rationality…. Ibn Hazm went so far as to state that God is not bound even by his own
word …. Were it God’s will, we would even have to practice idolatry” (para. 4) “God’s transcendence and otherness are so exalted that our reason, our sense
of the true and the good, are no longer an authentic mirror of God, whose deepest possibilities remain eternally unattainable and hidden behind his actual decisions.” (para. 7)

This has been disputed by his Islamic interlocutors. In a gracious and intelligent Open Letter to His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI 38 worldwide leaders and scholars object that “figures such as al-Ghazali (d.1111 CE) and many others are far more influential and representative of Islamic belief than Ibn Hazim (d.1069)”. Here is al-Ghazali:

“He willeth also the unbelief of the unbeliever and the irreligion of the wicked and, without that will there would neither be unbelief nor irreligion … In creating unbelievers, in willing that they should remain in that state … in willing in short all that is evil, God has wise ends in view which it is not necessary that we should know.” (quoted in Answering Islam, N. Geisler & A. Saleeb, Baker,
2000; p 29)

The Open Letter seems to take the Pope’s point that in Muslim theology God’s nature would theoretically allow Him to be capricious, as if he is suggesting that Allah has actually acted in a capricious manner. The writers counter the latter idea by quoting Surah 16:90 “God enjoins justice and kindness ….”. They might also have quoted 6:54 “He has made compassion an inviolable law for himself.”

An Unresolved Tension

None of this flows from, let alone reveals, the very nature of God. The question remains, “Theoretically, could God order us to commit idolatry?” There are sayings in authoritative hadith which seem to bear out the Pope’s position - including for instance a saying of the Prophet “if Allah Most High had not willed that there be disobedience, He would not have created the Devil”.

Another example would be the recent response of the prominent British Islamic scholar Tariq Ramadan to John Humphreys’ question “Why does Allah allow suffering in the way he does?” Professor Ramadan replied “I don’t know why he wanted me to be here and you to be here. I don’t know why he sometimes makes me happy or sad.”

The Open Letter then goes on to assert that “in their most mature and mainstream forms the intellectual explorations of Muslims through the ages have maintained a consonance between the truths of the Quranic revelation and the demands of human intelligence, without sacrificing one for the other.” Again this falls short of the necessary grounding of the nature of human reason in the nature of Divine Reason which the Pope was emphasizing.

Islamic Voluntarism

The inability of the Islamic faith even to countenance the idea that our minds and hearts are made for God is further affirmed by its repugnance of Incarnational theology. Also there is a paucity in mainstream Islamic theology, as in the Koran, of descriptions of experience of God. The relationship between the creator and his human creature, in as much as it is mutual, is virtually always described in terms of Master-Slave. Moreover we hear on several occasions that God “does not love” certain classes of people such as the evil-doer and the unbeliever.

The Pope juxtaposes the Islamic tendency to put the actual nature of God (if not his chosen actions) beyond intelligibility with:

“… the faith of the Church (which) has always insisted that between God and us, between his eternal Creator Spirit and our created reason there exists a real analogy
… God does not become more divine when we push him away from us in a sheer, impenetrable voluntarism; rather, the truly divine God is the God who has revealed
himself as logos and, as logos, has acted and continues to act lovingly on our behalf…Consequently, Christian worship is, … to quote Paul: (logiké latreia), worship in harmony with the eternal Word and with our reason (cf. Rom 12:1).” (para.7)

Western Reductionism

The Pope links a similar voluntarism with the, in some ways very different, post-Enlightenment displacement of God. He discerns:

“in the Middle Ages … trends which would sunder the synthesis between the Greek spirit and the Christian spirit. In contrast with the so-called intellectualism of Augustine and Thomas, there arose with Duns Scotus a voluntarism which, in its later developments, led to the claim that we can only know God’s voluntas ordinata. Beyond this is the realm of God’s freedom, in virtue of which he could have done the opposite of everything he has actually done.” (para. 7).

After the Reformation we see the gradual "dehellenization" of Thomistic ontology whereby the ordered, holistic “element” in our knowing was devalued. Enlightenment thought significantly developed the separation of human reason from its objective foundation. Reason has more recently become seen as a purely subjective and relative faculty. This dynamic, as the Pope suggests, seems to have encouraged an exclusively “empirical” evaluation of scientific knowledge of nature. This means that matter is understood simply according to its “capacity to be exploited for our purposes”. (para.11)

“…. by its very nature this method excludes the question of God, making it appear an unscientific or pre-scientific question. Consequently, we are faced with a reduction of the radius of science and religion, one which needs to be questioned.” (para. 12)
This crucially involves reducing the significance of the “mathematical structure of matter, its intrinsic rationality, (that) which makes it possible to understand how matter works and use it efficiently.” It is this intrinsically intelligible structure of matter which the Pope christens “the Platonic element in the modern understanding of nature” (para. 11). His conclusion affirms that

“Modern scientific reason bears within itself a question which points beyond itself and beyond the possibilities of its methodology. Modern scientific reason simply
has to accept the rational structure of matter and the correspondence between our spirit and the prevailing structures of nature as a given.” (para. 16)

This accessibility of the inherent patterns of matter to our self-conscious rationality is fundamental to the dynamic of human consciousness. It throws up the question “why this has to be so?… a real question which has to be remanded by the natural science to other modes and planes of thought - to philosophy and theology.” (Para. 16)

A problem within the Greek Vision

We argued in our editorial last September that the intrinsic intelligibility of the structure of matter to our rational spiritual mind is fundamental evidence of matter’s total dependence upon the absolute Mind. As mentioned above, we go further than the Pope’s Regensburg lecture in suggesting that the cosmic dualistic mindset is the reason why so many modern thinkers inside and outside the Church have missed this. This has deeply affected all Indo-Greek cultures, in as much as they foster a view of the world in which the One and the Many of our experience are placed on different metaphysical dimensions.

Most crucially, the objectivity of the “Platonic element”, or holistic form, within human observation was undermined by its juxtaposition with the metaphysically distinct and intrinsically unintelligible principle of matter. Modern science has discovered the knowable qualities of matter-
energy. It has made the individual, dynamic material thing very important. Modern philosophies of science have thus made the static formal dimension of what we know less and less important. The mathematics and other clear-
cut categories of what we discover were depicted as impositions of the knower by Kant and then as purely cultural or personal conveniences by post-modernism.

Unresolved Issues in Western Thought

Because such thinkers have basically remained within our profoundly dualistic mindset, matter and form, individual and universal, the Many and the One are still assumed to be incompatible, radically distinct dimensions of what we know. Instead of the pre-Enlightenment tendency to subsume the Many into the One, matter under form, modern thought has reduced the One to the Many, formality to matter-energy flux. The former tends to a neo-Platonic pantheism and the latter to nominalistic individualism. Both undermine the ability of intelligible structure to point to a designing Mind.

It is this latter tendency which has produced the “modern self-limitation of reason, classically expressed in Kant’s ‘Critiques’, but in the meantime further radicalized by the impact of the natural sciences” whereby the objectivity of the formal “Platonic element in the modern understanding of nature” (para. 11) is downplayed. This is at the heart of the failure “to accept the rational structure of matter and the correspondence between our spirit and the prevailing rational structures of nature as a given … (and so to ask) the question why this has to be so?” (para. 16)

This distinction of static form and the “pure potentiality” of matter has, we think, become redundant. ‘Formality’ is a relative dynamic which describes the reality of matter-
energy at its various holistic levels. ‘Matter’ in its old scholastic sense describes lower-levels relative to their formal integration. Matter-energy is complex, dynamic and layered. It is also thoroughly holistic -at no stage can you reduce a material thing to its parts without losing something of what it is. There is no ‘pure potentiality’. All is relational and organized—directly relative to the logos of God.


The Pope has well brought out the dangers of losing sight of the intrinsic orientation of human rational discovery to the divine nature, whether in Islamic or post-
modern thought. It restricts the true “range of reason”, more so in modern relativism than in Islamic monotheism. It causes a certain undermining of our confidence in our ability and need to dialogue with those of different cultures. To build this anew we must hope to bring back into our thinking the Greek concept of logos purified by scriptural revelation. This can indeed correct fault lines
within globally important cultures today. Effectively to
encourage such correction is a profoundly needed and charitable action.

Modern science can help us. It must mean rooting out the oppositional dualism from the way so many modern minds view the fitting together of the cosmos. All that is under the Mind of God is fundamentally good, ordered and unified, if also wounded. We must rediscover the intrinsic link between the organization of matter, its recognition by us and its creative organization by the transcendent God. We need to acknowledge the harmonious relationship of matter with the human mind and the divine Mind. This will give a great dignity to matter-energy, beginning to unlock its meaning in the light of the Word-Made-Flesh.

Ultimately it must mean, as we have argued before, understanding matter as orientated, in its very intelligible being, to the flesh of Christ, Son of God and Son of Man.

“He is the eternal Word in whom all things were created, and he is the incarnate Word who in his entire person reveals the Father (cf. Jn 1:14, 18).
What human reason seeks “without knowing it” (cf. Acts 17:23) can be found only through Christ: what is revealed in him is “the full truth” (cf. Jn 1:14-16)
of everything which was created in him and through him and which therefore in him finds its fulfillment (cf. Col 1:17)”. (Fides et Ratio, 34).

Ultimately only through the wonder of such a renewed vision can we move towards the resolution of grave global tensions and fruitfully develop the great Greco-Christian civilization bequeathed to us.

Faith Magazine