The Road from Regensburg

Ecumenical and inter-religious developments in the search for a modern apologetic

FAITH Magazine September- October 2007


Papal Hope?

The Pope’s private secretary, Mgr Georg Gaenswein, has expressed the hope that the Regensburg lecture might help to avoid naivety concerning the identity and future of Europe. Sueddeutsche Zeitung

Response to Regensburg ushers in Muslim Ecumenism

Earlier this year the American Quarterly Islamica Magazine published 100 names of Muslim academic signatories to the October 2006 Open Letter to Pope Benedict which challenged the Pope’s Regensburg lecture. Their editorial states: “The seminal nature of this initiative becomes apparent when considering its achievement in forging one united theological posture across leading personalities from all the eight schools of Islamic thought - Sunni, Shi‘a, or otherwise. This was no small achievement and it opens doors for more intra-Muslim, or “ecumenical”, collaboration on a host of theological and moral issues. ...As Muslims and Christians comprise almost half of humanity and live side by side in so many troubled regions of the world, the need for respectful, yet candid dialogue isvital. The recent visit of the Roman Pontiff to Turkey was a step in the right direction.”

Book on the Lecture

In a new St Augustine’s Press book The Regensburg Lecture Fr James Schall S.J. argues that “far from being disrespectful of Islam or of modern thought (the lecture) is almost the first time the ultimate dimensions of both have been taken seriously and seen in their relationship to each other and to reason.” Catholic World Report, July 2007

Mustafa Akyol on Regensburg and on historically violent Islam

In the March 07 First Things Mustafa Akyol, the Turkish journalist, offered an interpretation of the Pope’s Regensburg address. This articulate pro-West Muslim columnist with the Turkish Daily News, who is also a proponent of the American neo-Creationist school of thought Intelligent Design, argued that the claim of some

secularists and Islamists that the Pope was “pursuing a clash of civilisations” was not true. Rather “he actually had a quite different vision” which is shown in a statement Cardinal Ratzinger used the day before the Servant of God John Paul II died, quoting his (Ratzinger’s) own book Christianity and the Crisis of Civilisations:

The real antagonism that characterises today’s world is not that between various religious cultures, but that between the radical emancipation of man from God, from the roots of life, on the one hand, and from the great religious cultures on the other.’

 In an online debate, organised by last December Akyol argued that “Pope Benedict has said, ‘for Muslim teaching, God is absolutely transcendent, His will is not bound up with any of our categories, even that of rationality’ However this is not the universal Muslim opinion... The Mutazila (school of thought believed) that God was rational and ‘justice was the essence of God, He could not wrong anybody, he could not enjoin anything contrary to reason.’ (Karen Armstrong, A History of God, 1993 p. 164)”

cf Faith Editorial January 2007, under the subtitle Islam and the Nature of God, for our discussion of the Popes emphasis that for Christians human reason is uniquely based upon the rational nature of God, or Logos.

  In the same magazine back in October 2004 Akyol explained how the idea that the war-like verses of the sword” abrogated earlier peace-loving verses held sway from the 10th century. It was based on Sura 2, verse 106: “we do not abrogate any verse... without giving you a better or equal one.” Since the 19th century scholars have apparently realised that by contextualising this verse, and others, the theory of abrogation is indeed unfounded. An interview with Catholic Islamologist Michel Cuypers earlier this year with Il Regno, has highlighted this and that today a growing number of Islamic scholars are calling for modern Biblical-like exegesis.

In a Washington Post piece, last May Akyol wrote: ‘The infusion of politics into religion since the early decades of Islam has skewed the tradition. Islamic jurists, the creators of sharia, not only introduced non-Qur’anic concepts such as the ban on apostasy but also developed the “method of abrogation” to bypass the peaceful verses and uphold the verses of the sword. They also adopted several laws from Sassanid Persia, which included the specifications for the second-class status of conquered Jews and Christians as dhimmis.

This extremism, he argues lost ground to the legitimate doctrinal developments of the (late 19th Century) enlightened Ottoman empire. But it made a come-back after the empire’s First World War induced

collapse. “The fanatic Wahhabi sect – which had been the bête noire of the Ottomans and their reforms – dominated Saudi Arabia...”

Relegating the Logos

Aref Nayed, the former professor at the Pontifical Institute for Arabic and islamic studies (Rome), whom we mentioned in the last (and first) version of this column as having entered into an intelligent and civilised post-Regensburg debate with Alessandro Martinetti, has now issued a long and vehement rejection of the Regensburg lectures themes in Islamica magazine.

He labels as “self-righteous” Euro-centrism the Pope’s claim concerning the uniquely coherent Greco-Christian emphasis upon man’s logosas intrinsically and evidently based upon God’s Logos. Islamica Magazine

Reason, Authority and Cardinal Cormac

Last June, Cardinal Cormac Murphy O’Connor spoke to the Muslim Council of Wales about dialogue between Muslims and Christians. Perhaps referring to some of the more vehement post-Regensburg reaction the Archbishop of Westminster affirmed that dialogue is only fruitful when everyone involved feels able to say what he or she believes. Perhaps referring to the recent British Sexual Orientation Regulationshe added that “We are most certainly not free to express our deeply held convictions, sometimes simply for reasons linked to so-called ‘political correctness’.”

The Archbishop aligned himself with the view expressed by the then Cardinal Ratzinger in his 2004 meeting with German philosopher Jürgen Habermas. Whilst Ratzinger accepted the western secular critique of the pathologicalelements of religion, he also asked Habermas to admit that reason has a similar weakness, particularly if it gives religion no voice and pushes to make it a totally private affair.

Murphy O’Connor also pointed out the difficulties for “even the most friendly” outsider to know who is the best person to ask when an explanation of Muslim beliefs and traditions is needed.

Venice Institute contributes to the debate

The current issue of Oasis, the Italian and Arabic Journal of a Venice based inter-faith study and research centre founded by Cardinal Scola in 2004, has a section entitled “Regensburg and Environs” containing three relevant articles.

It includes an article by Ida Zilio-Grandi a scholarly author based in Geneva and Venice, surveying rational Arabic discussions between Muslims and Christians during the Andalusian Islamic empire, from the eighth to the thirteenth century. The British scholar, Julia Bray, overviews the work of the tenth century Islamic scholar Ibn ‘Abd Rabbih. He supported the necessity of and the divine intention in setting up a Caliphate. Its justification arises, he argued, from the need for the Koran to be interpreted by reason and an authoritative tradition. The Caliph has a key interpretative role. Oasis Magazine

Interpreting the Koran

The Muslim Council of Britain’s secretary-general, Dr Abdul Bari highlighted the misinterpretation of scripture as a cause of terrorism. He said: “The Islamic texts, like Biblical texts, can be misinterpreted...” Mosques, he said, have a key role in educating the young to interpret the Koran properly. Times online, 20 June 2007


Egypt’s official religious adviser, Grand Mufti Ali Gomaa has stated that Muslims can change their religion. This is in anticipation of a Court ruling concerning 12 muslim converts from Coptic Christianity who want to revert. Times, Faith News, 29.7.07

Reason in Islam

The Algerian born French writer Malek Chebel published a book last year: “Islam and Reason: the battle of ideas”. This liberal Muslim thinker argues that there have been two main approaches to reason within Islamic tradition. One, “Islam as doctrine”, has held sway because of the particular choice of Caliph after the death of the prophet Mohammed. The other more “spontaneous” approach, more reflective and respectful of open rational enquiry, is represented by the eighth and ninth century Mu’tazila school of thought, the tolerant Arab civilisation of Andalusia, and by Sufism.

Pontifical Council

The Pope’s restoration of the Pontifical Council for Interreligous Dialoguehas been seen as a signal that the pontiff regards interfaith dialogue as a priority, despite the uproar caused last year by his controversial speech on Islam. The Pope appointed Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, the Vatican’s former Foreign Minister, as president. The Times, 26 June 2007

With contributions from Lisa Gregoire and Richard Marsden.


Developing Natural Theology

Speakers confirmed for the June 2008 international and interdisciplinary conference on natural theology at Oxford University, include Marilyn McCord Adams [Natural

theology and the problem of evil], Simon Conway Morris [Evolutionary biology and natural theology], John Haught [The challenge of Darwinism for natural theology], and Keith Ward. Other subjects will include “Natural theology and the cognitive science of religion” and “The development of English natural theology”. The conference is being convened by Alister McGrath, Oxford Professor of Historical Theology, who himself will speak on “Renewing the vision of natural theology”. Alister McGraths website

Intelligent Design?

Simon Conway Morris, professor of evolutionary palaeobiology in the Department of Earth Sciences at the University of Cambridge, has strongly and succinctly criticised Intelligent Designthought in the current issue of Science and Christian Belief, the journal sponsored by Christians in Science. He forthrightly describes Intelligent Design thought as depicting God as “closer to a super-engineer... than the personal and loving Creator that stands at the centre of Christian orthodoxy... a disinterested deity whose main function seems to be to leave enigmatic calling cards.” Science and Christian Belief, Vol. 19 No. 1 p.85


The Cambridge branch of Christians in Scienceis hosting George F. R. Ellis of the University of Cape Town and former President of the Royal Society of South Africa on 6th November next. He will speak on ‘The Multiverse, Ultimate Causation and God’ at Emmanuel College, a subject often discussed in this magazine.

CU leader can be non-Christian

Exeter University’s Christian union (CU) lost independent arbitration over whether they should be allowed to specify that their leaders be Christian. CU member Ben Martin commented “religious association and freedom of speech are fundamental human rights and not ones on which... the CU is prepared to compromise.” The CU are applying for a judicial review.

Helpful Ecumenism

Pastor Albert Mohler, a Southern Baptist, has commented that he respects the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faiths document Subsistitbecause it is consistent with previous Catholic teaching (with which he strongly disagrees), is honest about its inherent belief that the Papacy is integral to the nature of the Church, and that it shows a very sensible concern for the danger souls can put themselves in by being in serious error (as he believes Catholics are). Fr Tim Finigan's blog.


Pannenberg on Faith and Science

Wolfhart Pannenberg, the prominent Lutheran Professor Emeritus of Theology has explicitly taken up Pope Benedict’s Regensburg theme of the “dehellenising” of Christian thought. In a June/July 2007 First Thingsarticle he acknowledges that “the argument that the God of Israel is in fact the one God conceived by the philosophers... was essential to the plausibility of both Jewish and Christian witness in the Hellenic world.”

He surveys post-Enlightenment theological attempts to synthesise faith and reason, ending with Process Theology. He then states “As in the Apsotolic era and through the centuries, the crucial issue is how to conceive of the one God, creator of all that is. For philosophical theology different cultures require different arguments. Today for instance we must address the arguments of modern atheism. Moreover it is necessary to show how God can be conceived of as the creator of the universe, as that universe is described by modern science. ...a philosophical or theological conception of God as creator must be compatible with the universe as described by science.” First Things

Pope and Rabbi unite in seeking truth

In a May Jerusalem Postarticle Jewish Rabbi Jacob Neusner said he was was “amazed” when he discovered that Pope Benedict, in his new book Jesus of Nazareth, had seriously engaged with his “talks with Jesus”. He suggests that the post-Vatican II Judeo-Christian dialogue enters “a new age” with Pope Benedict’s approach. The pontiff clearly believes that bringing their respective claims to truth out into the intellectual forum is the path of true dialogue between Jews and Christians.

Neusner, an American religious studies lecturer had argued that “Where Jesus diverges from the revelation by God to Moses at Mount Sinai that is the Torah, he is wrong, and Moses is right.” Sandro Magister comments that “The central issue that prevents the rabbi from believing in Jesus is his revealing himself as God.”

The Pope’s book responds by contextualising the Sermon on the Mount by the intimate union of Jesus with the Father that we are called to share. Jesus clearly appears as the “new Moses” who brings the new Torah or, actually, returns to Moses’ Torah and fulfils it” (p.65). Only through such communion can Man “fulfil” himself, because his innermost nature is oriented towards a relationship with God.

“Someone once called me the most contentious person he had ever known,” Neussner comments. “Now I have met my match. Pope Benedict XVI is another truth-seeker.” www.chiesa

Faith Magazine