“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.”[1] With these words of the 14th-century emperor Manuel II, Pope Benedict XVI “fomented discord” in a world beset by “more than enough religious anger.”[2] The insulting passage, taken from his Regensburg lecture of September 12, 2006, reflected the Pontiff’s hard-line stance on Catholic belief and practice. Benedict appeared willing to offend Muslim sensibilities in the name of “uniform Catholic identity”[3]—a tragic reminder of the dangers of doctrinal conservatism in a multicultural age.

Or so the New York Times editorial of September 16, 2006, would have us believe.

The outrage ignited by the Regensburg address cannot be denied. Islamic militants seized the opportunity to heap invectives on the West. Iranian newspapers accused Benedict of exercising a US-Zionist plot,[4] while al Qaeda in Iraq vowed jihad against the Vatican: “We shall break the cross and spill the wine…God will (help) Muslims to conquer Rome….God enable us to slit their throats, and make their money and descendants the bounty of the mujahideen.”[5] Violent protestors in Iraq and India burned effigies of the Pope. Renegades hurled firebombs at churches in the West Bank. And finally, a Catholic nun in Mogadishu was murdered outside the hospital where she trained pediatric nurses. Her name was Sister Leonella Sgorbati.[6]

The speed and scale of the response raises many questions—including to what extent the media may be culpable for “fomenting discord” in sensitive regions. Early translations of the speech, for example, omitted Benedict’s discomfort with the quotation, citing “a brusqueness that we find unacceptable” in the Emperor’s manner. Some headlines collapsed the distinction between Benedict and the 14th century emperor altogether. “Pope described Islam as evil and inhuman,” said the BBC World News Service.[7] But perhaps the greatest sin of the press lay in its inability to lend thoughtful analysis to the speech itself. Part of the failure can be attributed to the 24-hour news format. No scholarly work of significance can be stuffed into a sound byte, nor does Benedict curtail his speech for the sake of mass media. He requires active listeners—ones willing to be “partners in the dialogue of cultures,”[8] as he puts it.

It may be useful to consider what Benedict means by “dialogue.” In the Catholic tradition, dialogue or disputation is something of an art. The participants may represent vast and conflicting opinions, yet are united in the common pursuit of truth. A crucial element of disputation is stating the opposite view better than one’s adversary. (The objection-response structure of Thomas Aquinas’s Summa Theologica is a classic example.) Such fine argument demands attentiveness and respect for the other, as well as a commitment to affirm the truth wherever it may be found.

Benedict did not appear to win many dialogue partners in the mass media following Regensburg. Editorials like the New York Times betray a resistance to contemplate the Pope’s point of view, despite its difference from prevailing attitudes. As a result, the media fell into the same eclipse of reason critiqued in the Regensburg address.

To grasp this critique we must attend to the actual text. It begins with a portrait of faith and reason set in the university—specifically, at the University of Bonn, where Benedict taught from 1959 to 1963. He recalls a lively spirit of inquiry across all faculties, including theology. This interdisciplinary exchange, in which sacred and natural sciences freely converse, models the approach to dialogue Benedict favors. Each comes to the conversation with the particular knowledge of his discipline or tradition, yet is aware of the reasonable ground uniting human speech. The universality of reason is at the heart of the university; it forms a common witness to truth from diverse specializations. As Benedict writes of Bonn, “we made up a whole, working in everything on the basis of a single rationality…and sharing responsibility for the right use of reason.”[9] The ethical demands of reason, according to Benedict, include the investigation into faith—if only to fill out the “universe of sciences” at its disposal.[10] By asking the question of God, reason does not become faith; rather, it returns from the transcendent horizon to become itself more fully. In Benedict’s view, the Catholic and Protestant faculties at Bonn signify a willingness to be informed by the ideas of faith, even if one does not accept its divine object. Reason likewise benefits faith inasmuch as it unveils its intelligibility—a meaningfulness that Catholic Christianity attributes to the nature of God.

The correlation between reason and faith is the central issue of another dialogue. This time, the Pontiff retells the medieval dispute between Manuel II and the learned Persian. Leaving aside the material of controversy for a moment, we can hear the Emperor’s main contention, which Benedict clearly shares: “not acting reasonably is contrary to God’s nature…Whoever would lead someone to faith needs the ability to speak well and to reason properly, without violence and threats.”[11] The word “reasonably” is a loaded term; it is the Greek logos, the philosophic name for the rationality of being, later ascribed to Christ. For the Christian emperor, faith partakes of the divine intellect. It elevates the faculties of the soul natural to man—namely, his knowing and willing. Therefore, conversion must be a matter of persuasion, not violence. To spread religion by the sword is to beat the mind and heart beneath the fears of the body. No real transformation can occur under such duress; the soul must orient itself to what is above in order to find living faith.

Here Benedict points out an important distinction between Christianity and Islam. What is above the soul—the supernatural source of faith—is not radically other in the Catholic tradition. The wise order evident in the universe bespeaks the wisdom of God. Human rationality also depends on the communicable truth of God for existence. In other words, there is a substantive likeness between the Creator and his creature, although it coincides with a vast unlikeness. The Islamic tradition ascribes absolute transcendence to God, which in its extreme form alienates human reason from the divine altogether. Divine will trumps the perceived truth of God in creation. One Islamic scholar makes the assertion: “Were it God’s will, we would even have to practice idolatry.”[12]

Benedict traces the association of logos and Christian faith to its roots in Biblical history. God reveals himself to Moses as “I AM.” The divine name contradicts the cult of the nations, tied to local gods and land, with the universality of its claim. “I AM” opens Hebrew faith to metaphysical contemplation; when Hebrew civilization encounters Greek thought in the Exile, this results in the creation of sacred texts. The Septuagint, a Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible made in the 3rd and 2nd centuries B.C. to meet the needs of Greek-speaking Jews outside Palestine, and wisdom books of the Old Testament come forth from the “rapprochement between Biblical faith and Greek inquiry,”[13] as Benedict puts it. The two arrive at their highest synthesis in the Gospel of John as the Evangelist recapitulates the first lines of Genesis: “In the beginning was the Logos.[14] John decisively identifies Christ with reason and word, “reason which is creative and capable of self-communication, precisely as reason.”[15] Christian faith must therefore reflect the object in which it believes, and become reasonable worship.

The synthesis between faith and reason faced mounting challenges from the medieval period forward. First, within Catholic theology, John Duns Scotus (1266-1308) assails the unity of God’s freedom and goodness. Freedom becomes equated with possibility, especially the possibility of God to do the opposite of what he has done in history. Man, a temporal creature, can no longer access the nature of God from the movement of divine providence; God is pushed away from man in transcendence similar to the Islamic view. Human knowing and willing cease to be “an authentic mirror of God.”[16]

The second wave of challenges begins with the Protestant Reformers. The motto of sola Scriptura rejects what the Reformers perceive as the evisceration of faith into a philosophical system.   Immanuel Kant (1724-1804), the founder of idealist philosophy, applies his division of the phenomenal (or the appearance of the object) and noumenal (or the essence of the object) to the act of belief. In Religion within the Limits of Reason Alone (1794), he denies any power of faith to penetrate objective—or noumenal—reality. Faith is rather an outgrowth of the individual’s felt sense of moral duty; the concept of God also arises from the phenomenal, from practical reason. Adolf Von Harnack (1851-1930), father of the historical-critical method of Biblical interpertation, limits Christ to the historically verifiable. Both reflect the narrow scope of reason in the modern period. “Science” is only that which can be quantified, tested, and falsified. This view of reason defines the question of God as unscientific or pre-scientific, thereby confining theological discourse to the purely subjective.

Benedict finally invites two audiences to enter ongoing dialogue with the Church—the university and world religions. The university, he contends, must allow reason to fulfill its natural inclination to seek what is above. By asking the question of God, science overcomes material determinism to achieve a wise knowledge of the whole— wisdom desperately needed in today’s ethical and technological dilemmas. Of religions, and Islam in particular, Benedict asks for a reexamination of the logos within their own traditions. Our common rationality, he argues, can serve as the point of unity within legitimate difference.


“Show me just what Mohammed brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman.” One easily feels the sting of the remark. Nonetheless, we do sense that it is evil and inhuman to spread religion by violence, regardless of the religion seeking to impose itself. As Westerners, we have been formed by the synthesis of faith and reason. We recognize discrete responsibilities of government and religion, as well as the individual’s natural rights within these spheres—primarily the right to seek the truth and act on conscience. The noble goal of government is to secure justice in the earthly realm with particular attention to natural rights; yet the question of justice can be complex and difficult to satisfy. The Church enters dialogue with the State on precisely this point, through faith illuminating the origin and end of social ethics. In the encyclical God is Love, Benedict describes the role of the Church as “to contribute, here and now, to the acknowledgment and attainment of what is just.”[17] The Church is to enlighten human acts in a similar way that faith perfects the mind—by presenting, not imposing, its ultimate possibility. When Church, or State, attempts to presume the duties of the other, it reflects the deep impression and synthesis of faith and reason on the Western mind.

In contrast, the Islamic world has struggled to define a working synthesis between civil and religious domains. The distinction tends to become polarized, as in Turkish and Ba’athist secularism, or confused, as in the regimes of the Taliban and Ayatollah. Benedict argues that the absolute transcendence of God, along with the distancing of faith from human reason, makes Islam vulnerable to these extremes. The Prophet’s early teaching that “there is no compulsion in religion”[18] gives way to “dhimmitude”, in which Jews and Christians (the “people of the Book”) are allowed to maintain their faith but denied equal participation in society and law; dhimmitude cedes to modern jihad, the killing of so-called infidels. Benedict argues that Islam must confront not only militant extremism, but its philosophical roots as well; if Islam can return to the logos within its own tradition, it may find a way to moderate the antagonism between the natural and the divine.

Unlike the modern press, the Vatican has a long memory. The Pope’s appeal to moderates and philosophers is not a novelty; it is a reminder of a thousand-year conversation. The dialogue once engaged the great Islamic minds of Avicenna (980-1037) and Averroes (1126-1198) with Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274). Benedict appeared to win new participants amidst the violent breakout. A Syrian Reformer offered his self-reflection in the Washington Post: “As a moderate Muslim living amongst Muslims, Christians, and Jews, I am asking myself what have we, Muslims, brought forth to today’s civilizations that would appeal to other religions and prompt them to imitate us or praise us?”[19] He, like other moderates, advocates the return of Islam to its intellectual heritage and the dismantling of Wahhabi fanaticism—the radical sect of Sunni Islam entrenched in Saudi Arabia and responsible for the majority of terrorism today.

The project of recovering the logos, however, is not asked of Islam alone. Of equal or greater concern to Benedict is the restoration of faith and reason in the West. The modern constraint of reason to the empirically true or false inevitably erodes the synthesis of Christianity with politics and philosophy—a tradition which “created Europe and remains the foundation of what can rightly be called Europe,”[20] Benedict claims. When the question of God is alienated from reason, religion becomes a strictly private matter incapable of informing public life. Ethics are thereby reduced to subjective conscience and experience—what I feel is right, what’s good for me. Without the transcendent horizon of the true and good, government loses the capacity to judge right and wrong; sheer power, rather than objective goodness, determines law and order. The 20th century bears witness to the violent imposition of ideology spread by the sword. Still atheists like Christopher Hitchens blame religion for human misery, while Sam Harris touts a new version of slaying the infidel. He writes in The End of Faith, “Some propositions are so dangerous that it may even be ethical to kill people for believing them.”[21] It is with great urgency that Benedict asks the West to reconsider the logos.

There is a real irony in the New York Times editorial against the Regensburg lecture. It condemns Benedict’s conservatism, proclaiming it a weak “jumping-off point for tolerance or interfaith dialogue.”[22] On the contrary, it is the relativism trumpeted by the Times that poses the greatest threat to a peaceful society—for the absence of objective good enthrones willpower and violence to determine the ideology of the day. Faith directs us to the Good, Benedict claims. It reveals man as born and destined for goodness, and indwelling a universe penetrated by wisdom. To the extent that religion and science acknowledge the Good, reasoned dialogue can proceed amidst disagreement; “reason which is deaf to the divine,”[23] on the other hand, is ill equipped to negotiate the demands of justice. Benedict proposes the logos as the ultimate synthesis of faith and reason. And the logos, which possesses the grand diversity of being, is able to enlighten the path of peace in a complicated world.


Appendix A


Aula Magna of the University of Regensburg
Tuesday, 12 September 2006

Faith, Reason and the University
Memories and Reflections


Your Eminences, Your Magnificences, Your Excellencies,
Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is a moving experience for me to be back again in the university and to be able once again to give a lecture at this podium. I think back to those years when, after a pleasant period at the Freisinger Hochschule, I began teaching at the University of Bonn. That was in 1959, in the days of the old university made up of ordinary professors. The various chairs had neither assistants nor secretaries, but in recompense there was much direct contact with students and in particular among the professors themselves. We would meet before and after lessons in the rooms of the teaching staff. There was a lively exchange with historians, philosophers, philologists and, naturally, between the two theological faculties. Once a semester there was a dies academicus, when professors from every faculty appeared before the students of the entire university, making possible a genuine experience of universitas—something that you too, Magnificent Rector, just mentioned—the experience, in other words, of the fact that despite our specializations which at times make it difficult to communicate with each other, we made up a whole, working in everything on the basis of a single rationality with its various aspects and sharing responsibility for the right use of reason—this reality became a lived experience. The university was also very proud of its two theological faculties. It was clear that, by inquiring about the reasonableness of faith, they too carried out a work which is necessarily part of the “whole” of the universitas scientiarum, even if not everyone could share the faith which theologians seek to correlate with reason as a whole. This profound sense of coherence within the universe of reason was not troubled, even when it was once reported that a colleague had said there was something odd about our university: it had two faculties devoted to something that did not exist: God. That even in the face of such radical scepticism it is still necessary and reasonable to raise the question of God through the use of reason, and to do so in the context of the tradition of the Christian faith: this, within the university as a whole, was accepted without question.

I was reminded of all this recently, when I read the edition by Professor Theodore Khoury (Münster) of part of the dialogue carried on—perhaps in 1391 in the winter barracks near Ankara—by the erudite Byzantine emperor Manuel II Paleologus and an educated Persian on the subject of Christianity and Islam, and the truth of both.[1] It was presumably the emperor himself who set down this dialogue, during the siege of Constantinople between 1394 and 1402; and this would explain why his arguments are given in greater detail than those of his Persian interlocutor.[2] The dialogue ranges widely over the structures of faith contained in the Bible and in the Qur’an, and deals especially with the image of God and of man, while necessarily returning repeatedly to the relationship between—as they were called—three “Laws” or “rules of life”: the Old Testament, the New Testament and the Qur’an. It is not my intention to discuss this question in the present lecture; here I would like to discuss only one point—itself rather marginal to the dialogue as a whole—which, in the context of the issue of “faith and reason”, I found interesting and which can serve as the starting-point for my reflections on this issue.

In the seventh conversation (διάλεξις—controversy) edited by Professor Khoury, the emperor touches on the theme of the holy war. The emperor must have known that surah 2, 256 reads: “There is no compulsion in religion”. According to some of the experts, this is probably one of the suras of the early period, when Mohammed was still powerless and under threat. But naturally the emperor also knew the instructions, developed later and recorded in the Qur’an, concerning holy war. Without descending to details, such as the difference in treatment accorded to those who have the “Book” and the “infidels”, he addresses his interlocutor with a startling brusqueness, a brusqueness that we find unacceptable, on the central question about the relationship between religion and violence in general, 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.”[3] The emperor, after having expressed himself so forcefully, goes on to explain in detail the reasons why spreading the faith through violence is something unreasonable. Violence is incompatible with the nature of God and the nature of the soul. “God”, he says, “is not pleased by blood—and not acting reasonably (σὺν λόγω) is contrary to God’s nature. Faith is born of the soul, not the body. Whoever would lead someone to faith needs the ability to speak well and to reason properly, without violence and threats… To convince a reasonable soul, one does not need a strong arm, or weapons of any kind, or any other means of threatening a person with death…”.[4]

The decisive statement in this argument against violent conversion is this: not to act in accordance with reason is contrary to God’s nature.[5] The editor, Theodore Khoury, observes: For the emperor, as a Byzantine shaped by Greek philosophy, this statement is self-evident. But for Muslim teaching, God is absolutely transcendent. His will is not bound up with any of our categories, even that of rationality.[6] Here Khoury quotes a work of the noted French Islamist R. Arnaldez, who points out that Ibn Hazm went so far as to state that God is not bound even by his own word, and that nothing would oblige him to reveal the truth to us. Were it God’s will, we would even have to practise idolatry.[7]

At this point, as far as understanding of God and thus the concrete practice of religion is concerned, we are faced with an unavoidable dilemma. Is the conviction that acting unreasonably contradicts God’s nature merely a Greek idea, or is it always and intrinsically true? I believe that here we can see the profound harmony between what is Greek in the best sense of the word and the biblical understanding of faith in God. Modifying the first verse of the Book of Genesis, the first verse of the whole Bible, John began the prologue of his Gospel with the words: “In the beginning was the λόγος”. This is the very word used by the emperor: God acts, σὺν λόγω, with logos. Logos means both reason and word—a reason which is creative and capable of self-communication, precisely as reason. John thus spoke the final word on the biblical concept of God, and in this word all the often toilsome and tortuous threads of biblical faith find their culmination and synthesis. In the beginning was the logos, and the logos is God, says the Evangelist. The encounter between the Biblical message and Greek thought did not happen by chance. The vision of Saint Paul, who saw the roads to Asia barred and in a dream saw a Macedonian man plead with him: “Come over to Macedonia and help us!” (cf. Acts 16:6-10)—this vision can be interpreted as a “distillation” of the intrinsic necessity of a rapprochement between Biblical faith and Greek inquiry.

In point of fact, this rapprochement had been going on for some time. The mysterious name of God, revealed from the burning bush, a name which separates this God from all other divinities with their many names and simply asserts being, “I am”, already presents a challenge to the notion of myth, to which Socrates’ attempt to vanquish and transcend myth stands in close analogy.[8] Within the Old Testament, the process which started at the burning bush came to new maturity at the time of the Exile, when the God of Israel, an Israel now deprived of its land and worship, was proclaimed as the God of heaven and earth and described in a simple formula which echoes the words uttered at the burning bush: “I am”. This new understanding of God is accompanied by a kind of enlightenment, which finds stark expression in the mockery of gods who are merely the work of human hands (cf. Ps 115). Thus, despite the bitter conflict with those Hellenistic rulers who sought to accommodate it forcibly to the customs and idolatrous cult of the Greeks, biblical faith, in the Hellenistic period, encountered the best of Greek thought at a deep level, resulting in a mutual enrichment evident especially in the later wisdom literature. Today we know that the Greek translation of the Old Testament produced at Alexandria—the Septuagint—is more than a simple (and in that sense really less than satisfactory) translation of the Hebrew text: it is an independent textual witness and a distinct and important step in the history of revelation, one which brought about this encounter in a way that was decisive for the birth and spread of Christianity.[9] A profound encounter of faith and reason is taking place here, an encounter between genuine enlightenment and religion. From the very heart of Christian faith and, at the same time, the heart of Greek thought now joined to faith, Manuel II was able to say: Not to act “with logos” is contrary to God’s nature.

In all honesty, one must observe that in the late Middle Ages we find trends in theology which would sunder this 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. This gives rise to positions which clearly approach those of Ibn Hazm and might even lead to the image of a capricious God, who is not even bound to truth and goodness. God’s transcendence and otherness are so exalted that our reason, our sense of the true and good, are no longer an authentic mirror of God, whose deepest possibilities remain eternally unattainable and hidden behind his actual decisions. As opposed to this, the faith of the Church has always insisted that between God and us, between his eternal Creator Spirit and our created reason there exists a real analogy, in which—as the Fourth Lateran Council in 1215 stated—unlikeness remains infinitely greater than likeness, yet not to the point of abolishing analogy and its language. 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. Certainly, love, as Saint Paul says, “transcends” knowledge and is thereby capable of perceiving more than thought alone (cf. Eph 3:19); nonetheless it continues to be love of the God who is Logos. Consequently, Christian worship is, again to quote Paul—”λογικη λατρεία”, worship in harmony with the eternal Word and with our reason (cf. Rom 12:1).[10]

This inner rapprochement between Biblical faith and Greek philosophical inquiry was an event of decisive importance not only from the standpoint of the history of religions, but also from that of world history—it is an event which concerns us even today. Given this convergence, it is not surprising that Christianity, despite its origins and some significant developments in the East, finally took on its historically decisive character in Europe. We can also express this the other way around: this convergence, with the subsequent addition of the Roman heritage, created Europe and remains the foundation of what can rightly be called Europe.

The thesis that the critically purified Greek heritage forms an integral part of Christian faith has been countered by the call for a dehellenization of Christianity—a call which has more and more dominated theological discussions since the beginning of the modern age. Viewed more closely, three stages can be observed in the programme of dehellenization: although interconnected, they are clearly distinct from one another in their motivations and objectives.[11]

Dehellenization first emerges in connection with the postulates of the Reformation in the sixteenth century. Looking at the tradition of scholastic theology, the Reformers thought they were confronted with a faith system totally conditioned by philosophy, that is to say an articulation of the faith based on an alien system of thought. As a result, faith no longer appeared as a living historical Word but as one element of an overarching philosophical system. The principle of sola scriptura, on the other hand, sought faith in its pure, primordial form, as originally found in the biblical Word. Metaphysics appeared as a premise derived from another source, from which faith had to be liberated in order to become once more fully itself. When Kant stated that he needed to set thinking aside in order to make room for faith, he carried this programme forward with a radicalism that the Reformers could never have foreseen. He thus anchored faith exclusively in practical reason, denying it access to reality as a whole.

The liberal theology of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries ushered in a second stage in the process of dehellenization, with Adolf von Harnack as its outstanding representative. When I was a student, and in the early years of my teaching, this programme was highly influential in Catholic theology too. It took as its point of departure Pascal’s distinction between the God of the philosophers and the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. In my inaugural lecture at Bonn in 1959, I tried to address the issue,[12] and I do not intend to repeat here what I said on that occasion, but I would like to describe at least briefly what was new about this second stage of dehellenization. Harnack’s central idea was to return simply to the man Jesus and to his simple message, underneath the accretions of theology and indeed of hellenization: this simple message was seen as the culmination of the religious development of humanity. Jesus was said to have put an end to worship in favour of morality. In the end he was presented as the father of a humanitarian moral message. Fundamentally, Harnack’s goal was to bring Christianity back into harmony with modern reason, liberating it, that is to say, from seemingly philosophical and theological elements, such as faith in Christ’s divinity and the triune God. In this sense, historical-critical exegesis of the New Testament, as he saw it, restored to theology its place within the university: theology, for Harnack, is something essentially historical and therefore strictly scientific. What it is able to say critically about Jesus is, so to speak, an expression of practical reason and consequently it can take its rightful place within the university. Behind this thinking lies 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. This modern concept of reason is based, to put it briefly, on a synthesis between Platonism (Cartesianism) and empiricism, a synthesis confirmed by the success of technology. On the one hand it presupposes the mathematical structure of matter, its intrinsic rationality, which makes it possible to understand how matter works and use it efficiently: this basic premise is, so to speak, the Platonic element in the modern understanding of nature. On the other hand, there is nature’s capacity to be exploited for our purposes, and here only the possibility of verification or falsification through experimentation can yield decisive certainty. The weight between the two poles can, depending on the circumstances, shift from one side to the other. As strongly positivistic a thinker as J. Monod has declared himself a convinced Platonist/Cartesian.

This gives rise to two principles which are crucial for the issue we have raised. First, only the kind of certainty resulting from the interplay of mathematical and empirical elements can be considered scientific. Anything that would claim to be science must be measured against this criterion. Hence the human sciences, such as history, psychology, sociology and philosophy, attempt to conform themselves to this canon of scientificity. A second point, which is important for our reflections, is that 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 reason, one which needs to be questioned.

I will return to this problem later. In the meantime, it must be observed that from this standpoint any attempt to maintain theology’s claim to be “scientific” would end up reducing Christianity to a mere fragment of its former self. But we must say more: if science as a whole is this and this alone, then it is man himself who ends up being reduced, for the specifically human questions about our origin and destiny, the questions raised by religion and ethics, then have no place within the purview of collective reason as defined by “science”, so understood, and must thus be relegated to the realm of the subjective. The subject then decides, on the basis of his experiences, what he considers tenable in matters of religion, and the subjective “conscience” becomes the sole arbiter of what is ethical. In this way, though, ethics and religion lose their power to create a community and become a completely personal matter. This is a dangerous state of affairs for humanity, as we see from the disturbing pathologies of religion and reason which necessarily erupt when reason is so reduced that questions of religion and ethics no longer concern it. Attempts to construct an ethic from the rules of evolution or from psychology and sociology, end up being simply inadequate.

Before I draw the conclusions to which all this has been leading, I must briefly refer to the third stage of dehellenization, which is now in progress. In the light of our experience with cultural pluralism, it is often said nowadays that the synthesis with Hellenism achieved in the early Church was an initial inculturation which ought not to be binding on other cultures. The latter are said to have the right to return to the simple message of the New Testament prior to that inculturation, in order to inculturate it anew in their own particular milieux. This thesis is not simply false, but it is coarse and lacking in precision. The New Testament was written in Greek and bears the imprint of the Greek spirit, which had already come to maturity as the Old Testament developed. True, there are elements in the evolution of the early Church which do not have to be integrated into all cultures. Nonetheless, the fundamental decisions made about the relationship between faith and the use of human reason are part of the faith itself; they are developments consonant with the nature of faith itself.

And so I come to my conclusion. This attempt, painted with broad strokes, at a critique of modern reason from within has nothing to do with putting the clock back to the time before the Enlightenment and rejecting the insights of the modern age. The positive aspects of modernity are to be acknowledged unreservedly: we are all grateful for the marvellous possibilities that it has opened up for mankind and for the progress in humanity that has been granted to us. The scientific ethos, moreover, is—as you yourself mentioned, Magnificent Rector—the will to be obedient to the truth, and, as such, it embodies an attitude which belongs to the essential decisions of the Christian spirit. The intention here is not one of retrenchment or negative criticism, but of broadening our concept of reason and its application. While we rejoice in the new possibilities open to humanity, we also see the dangers arising from these possibilities and we must ask ourselves how we can overcome them. We will succeed in doing so only if reason and faith come together in a new way, if we overcome the self-imposed limitation of reason to the empirically falsifiable, and if we once more disclose its vast horizons. In this sense theology rightly belongs in the university and within the wide-ranging dialogue of sciences, not merely as a historical discipline and one of the human sciences, but precisely as theology, as inquiry into the rationality of faith.

Only thus do we become capable of that genuine dialogue of cultures and religions so urgently needed today. In the Western world it is widely held that only positivistic reason and the forms of philosophy based on it are universally valid. Yet the world’s profoundly religious cultures see this exclusion of the divine from the universality of reason as an attack on their most profound convictions. A reason which is deaf to the divine and which relegates religion into the realm of subcultures is incapable of entering into the dialogue of cultures. At the same time, as I have attempted to show, modern scientific reason with its intrinsically Platonic element bears within itself a question which points beyond itself and beyond the possibilities of its methodology. Modern scientific reason quite simply has to accept the rational structure of matter and the correspondence between our spirit and the prevailing rational structures of nature as a given, on which its methodology has to be based. Yet the question why this has to be so is a real question, and one which has to be remanded by the natural sciences to other modes and planes of thought—to philosophy and theology. For philosophy and, albeit in a different way, for theology, listening to the great experiences and insights of the religious traditions of humanity, and those of the Christian faith in particular, is a source of knowledge, and to ignore it would be an unacceptable restriction of our listening and responding. Here I am reminded of something Socrates said to Phaedo. In their earlier conversations, many false philosophical opinions had been raised, and so Socrates says: “It would be easily understandable if someone became so annoyed at all these false notions that for the rest of his life he despised and mocked all talk about being—but in this way he would be deprived of the truth of existence and would suffer a great loss”.[13] The West has long been endangered by this aversion to the questions which underlie its rationality, and can only suffer great harm thereby. The courage to engage the whole breadth of reason, and not the denial of its grandeur—this is the programme with which a theology grounded in Biblical faith enters into the debates of our time. “Not to act reasonably, not to act with logos, is contrary to the nature of God”, said Manuel II, according to his Christian understanding of God, in response to his Persian interlocutor. It is to this great logos, to this breadth of reason, that we invite our partners in the dialogue of cultures. To rediscover it constantly is the great task of the university.

[1] Of the total number of 26 conversations (διάλεξις – Khoury translates this as “controversy”) in the dialogue (“Entretien”), T. Khoury published the 7th “controversy” with footnotes and an extensive introduction on the origin of the text, on the manuscript tradition and on the structure of the dialogue, together with brief summaries of the “controversies” not included in the edition;  the Greek text is accompanied by a French translation:  “Manuel II Paléologue, Entretiens avec un Musulman.  7e Controverse”,  Sources Chrétiennes n. 115, Paris 1966.  In the meantime, Karl Förstel published in Corpus Islamico-Christianum (Series Graeca  ed. A. T. Khoury and R. Glei) an edition of the text in Greek and German with commentary:  “Manuel II. Palaiologus, Dialoge mit einem Muslim”, 3 vols., Würzburg-Altenberge 1993-1996.  As early as 1966, E. Trapp had published the Greek text with an introduction as vol. II of Wiener byzantinische Studien.  I shall be quoting from Khoury’s edition.

[2] On the origin and redaction of the dialogue, cf. Khoury, pp. 22-29;  extensive comments in this regard can also be found in the editions of Förstel and Trapp.

[3] Controversy VII, 2 c:  Khoury, pp. 142-143;  Förstel, vol. I, VII. Dialog 1.5, pp. 240-241.  In the Muslim world, this quotation has unfortunately been taken as an expression of my personal position, thus arousing understandable indignation.  I hope that the reader of my text can see immediately that this sentence does not express my personal view of the Qur’an, for which I have the respect due to the holy book of a great religion.  In quoting the text of the Emperor Manuel II, I intended solely to draw out the essential relationship between faith and reason.  On this point I am in agreement with Manuel II, but without endorsing his polemic.

[4] Controversy VII, 3 b–c:  Khoury, pp. 144-145;  Förstel vol. I, VII. Dialog 1.6, pp. 240-243.

[5] It was purely for the sake of this statement that I quoted the dialogue between Manuel and his Persian interlocutor.  In this statement the theme of my subsequent reflections emerges.

[6] Cf. Khoury, p. 144, n. 1.

[7] R. Arnaldez, Grammaire et théologie chez Ibn Hazm de Cordoue, Paris 1956, p. 13;  cf. Khoury, p. 144.  The fact that comparable positions exist in the theology of the late Middle Ages will appear later in my discourse.

[8] Regarding the widely discussed interpretation of the episode of the burning bush, I refer to my book Introduction to Christianity, London 1969, pp. 77-93  (originally published in German as Einführung in das Christentum, Munich 1968;  N.B. the pages quoted refer to the entire chapter entitled “The Biblical Belief in God”).  I think that my statements in that book, despite later developments in the discussion, remain valid today.

[9] Cf. A. Schenker, “L’Écriture sainte subsiste en plusieurs formes canoniques simultanées”, in L’Interpretazione della Bibbia nella Chiesa.  Atti del Simposio promosso dalla Congregazione per la Dottrina della Fede, Vatican City 2001, pp. 178-186.

[10] On this matter I expressed myself in greater detail in my book The Spirit of the Liturgy, San Francisco 2000, pp. 44-50.

[11] Of the vast literature on the theme of dehellenization, I would like to mention above all:  A. Grillmeier, “Hellenisierung-Judaisierung des Christentums als Deuteprinzipien der Geschichte des kirchlichen Dogmas”, in idem, Mit ihm und in ihm.  Christologische Forschungen und Perspektiven,  Freiburg 1975, pp. 423-488.

[12] Newly published with commentary by Heino Sonnemans (ed.):  Joseph Ratzinger-Benedikt XVI, Der Gott des Glaubens und der Gott der Philosophen.  Ein Beitrag zum Problem der theologia naturalis, Johannes-Verlag Leutesdorf, 2nd revised edition, 2005.

[13] Cf. 90 c-d.  For this text, cf. also R. Guardini, Der Tod des Sokrates, 5th edition, Mainz-Paderborn 1987, pp. 218-221.


Appendix B

Summa Theologica of Thomas Aquinas

Part I, Article 1, Question 1


Whether, besides philosophy, any further doctrine is required?

Objection 1: It seems that, besides philosophical science, we have no need of any further knowledge. For man should not seek to know what is above reason: “Seek not the things that are too high for thee” (Ecclus. 3:22). But whatever is not above reason is fully treated of in philosophical science. Therefore any other knowledge besides philosophical science is superfluous.

Objection 2: Further, knowledge can be concerned only with being, for nothing can be known, save what is true; and all that is, is true. But everything that is, is treated of in philosophical science—even God Himself; so that there is a part of philosophy called theology, or the divine science, as Aristotle has proved (Metaph. vi). Therefore, besides philosophical science, there is no need of any further knowledge.

On the contrary, It is written (2 Tim. 3:16): “All Scripture, inspired of God is profitable to teach, to reprove, to correct, to instruct in justice.” Now Scripture, inspired of God, is no part of philosophical science, which has been built up by human reason. Therefore it is useful that besides philosophical science, there should be other knowledge, i.e. inspired of God.

I answer that, It was necessary for man’s salvation that there should be a knowledge revealed by God besides philosophical science built up by human reason. Firstly, indeed, because man is directed to God, as to an end that surpasses the grasp of his reason: “The eye hath not seen, O God, besides Thee, what things Thou hast prepared for them that wait for Thee” (Is. 66:4). But the end must first be known by men who are to direct their thoughts and actions to the end. Hence it was necessary for the salvation of man that certain truths which exceed human reason should be made known to him by divine revelation. Even as regards those truths about God which human reason could have discovered, it was necessary that man should be taught by a divine revelation; because the truth about God such as reason could discover, would only be known by a few, and that after a long time, and with the admixture of many errors. Whereas man’s whole salvation, which is in God, depends upon the knowledge of this truth. Therefore, in order that the salvation of men might be brought about more fitly and more surely, it was necessary that they should be taught divine truths by divine revelation. It was therefore necessary that besides philosophical science built up by reason, there should be a sacred science learned through revelation.

Reply to Objection 1: Although those things which are beyond man’s knowledge may not be sought for by man through his reason, nevertheless, once they are revealed by God, they must be accepted by faith. Hence the sacred text continues, “For many things are shown to thee above the understanding of man” (Ecclus. 3:25). And in this, the sacred science consists.

Reply to Objection 2: Sciences are differentiated according to the various means through which knowledge is obtained. For the astronomer and the physicist both may prove the same conclusion: that the earth, for instance, is round: the astronomer by means of mathematics (i.e. abstracting from matter), but the physicist by means of matter itself. Hence there is no reason why those things which may be learned from philosophical science, so far as they can be known by natural reason, may not also be taught us by another science so far as they fall within revelation. Hence theology included in sacred doctrine differs in kind from that theology which is part of philosophy.

[1] Pope Benedict XVI, Faith, Reason, and the University: Memories and Reflections (12 September 2006)

[2] “The Pope’s Words” New York Times, 16 September 2006.

[3] ibid

[4] “Israeli-US plot behind pope’s remarks: Iran hardline press” Agence France-Presse, September 17, 2005.

[5] “Al Qaeda Threat over Pope Speech” CNN, September 18, 2006.

[6] “Burial for Nun Killed in Somalia” BBC, September 21, 2006.

[7] Dennis Boyles, “The Pope, Faith, and Reason” National Review Online, September 22, 2006.

[8] Benedict XVI, Faith, Reason, and the University.

[9] ibid

[10] ibid

[11] ibid

[12] ibid

[13] ibid

[14] John 1:1 cited in Faith, Reason, and the University.

[15] ibid

[16] ibid

[17] Benedict XVI, Encyclical Letter Deus Caritas Est (25 December 2005).

[18] Benedict XVI, Faith, Reason, and the University.

[19] Farid N. Ghadry, “Islam is in Danger” Washington Post. September 20, 2006.

[20] Benedict XVI, Faith, Reason, and the University.

[21] Sam Harris. The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason (W. W. Norton and Company, 2004).

[22] “The Pope’s Words”

[23] Benedict XVI, Faith, Reason, and the University.