This may, strangely enough, be the quiet day

033So, what did the pope say and when did he say it?

Actually, that is not the issue right now as we finish day two of this media storm, a day dominated — to the tune of 1,000 major media reports or so — by Muslim outrage about Pope Benedict XVI’s remarks in Germany about faith, reason and jihad. Click here for an early but updated collection of public reactions to his words, gathered by the awesome Christianity Today weblog crew.

Once again, it helps to read what the pope actually said. It also helps to know that no one should doubt his grasp of the basic facts involved in a discussion of Christianity and Islam. He is a scholar on these matters. The pope will be harder to dismiss or shout down than a circle of cartoonists.

At what point do people start burning the Vatican flag or this pope’s personal crest?

Or angry Muslims could do this, I guess.

At the moment, the press is covering the reaction of the streets. For those interested in the intellectual issues that are involved, the more important moment will come when the pope himself responds — especially in light of his planned Nov. 28 trip to Turkey. What will he say about the religious rights of minorities and the recent murders of priests there?

Meanwhile, here is the Washington Post summary of the basic facts:

In the lecture, Benedict quoted extensively from a book that recounted a 14th century conversation that purportedly took place between a Persian scholar and Byzantine Christian Emperor Manuel II Paleologos on the merits of Christianity and Islam. Benedict told the audience at the University of Regensburg that the “erudite” emperor addressed the scholar “with a startling brusqueness 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.’”

According to a transcript of the lecture on the Vatican Web site, Benedict said Manuel explained in some 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.”

Benedict did not explicitly endorse or repudiate Manuel’s views. But he repeatedly returned to the emperor’s comments on Islam, noting that Manuel was also quoted in the book as saying: “God is not pleased by blood — and not acting reasonably 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.”

Vatican City State flagClearly looking back to the cartoon crisis, the Los Angeles Times story said:

It is not yet clear if reaction to the pope’s comments will snowball into something more violent, as was the case when a Danish newspaper published cartoons last year satirizing Muhammad. Deadly riots erupted across the Muslim world.

The pope, by contrast, is a world religious leader whose comments come in a broader context that also advocates tolerance and cultural dialogue. Rhetorically, though, the fury was spreading. … In Kuwait, a high-ranking Islamist official, Haken Mutairi, called on all Arab and Muslim states to recall their ambassadors from the Holy See and expel any Vatican diplomats “until the pope says he is sorry for the wrong done to the prophet and to Islam, which preaches peace, tolerance, justice and equality,” Agence France-Presse reported.

I guess you could state the big doctrinal question this way: Will Pope Benedict XVI be willing to kiss the Koran? Or, will he insist that he has the right to air his own views about the contents of Islam and its relationship to Christianity and other religions?

How many legions does the pope have? Good question. And will any governments in the postmodern West rally to his support — perhaps the United States or the European Union — should he decide to stand firm? What if the street reactions to his remarks, ironically, turn violent?

In terms of news coverage this may be the quiet day. It all depends on what happens (a) in the demontrations and (b) in the private debates between the traditionalists and modernists inside the Vatican.

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About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.

  • jack bennett

    How many of those condemening the Pope, trying to force him to apologize or burning him in effigy have actually READ his entire speech?

    “until the pope says he is sorry for the wrong done to the prophet and to Islam, which preaches peace, tolerance, justice and equality,”

    Well, Mr. Mutairi, if that is what Islam really preaches, your current behaviour is a funny way of showing it. I really would like to be open-minded about this but I’ve both seen and read the Pope’s speech and if just the smallest criticism of Islam or Muhammed is met with threats and violence I would say that journalists should be investigating that and asking questions instead of headlines like “Pope Slams Islam” that appeared on the wires.

  • Tom Breen

    I tend to think this pope isn’t for turning, as the saying goes.

  • Kevin P. Edgecomb

    There is a very important connection here that I find it ironic has been overlooked by all reportage. Emperor Manuel II Paleologus was the third to last of the Byzantine Christian rulers of Constantinople, just prior to and in whose reign the Muslim Turks essentially struck all but the death blow to the Byzantine Empire. They finally did deal that blow in a siege ending on 29 May 1453 with the breaching of the walls, the death of the Emperor Constantine IX, Manuel II’s own son defending them, and the week-long resulting bloodbath in the “City of Churches.” There’s a fine summary of Manuel’s reign here.

    A further thing that strikes me is that no one seems to have noticed a particularly interesting aspect of Manuel’s statement: “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.” Manuel’s distinction is undoubtedly that piety, love, and such traits, were “old” things with their sources in Judaism and Christianity, and that the “new” things, particularly the jihad with which the Emperor was quite very familiar indeed, were “evil and inhuman.” Thus it’s not the entirety of Islam which was considered bad, just the new stuff. That seems like an interesting angle that someone at least should have noticed and commented upon.

    The irony that such a quotation leads to violence in the Muslim world is hardly worth noting anymore.

  • Larry Rasczak

    Couple of quick points…

    A) “Muslims outraged”

    Doesn’t that sort of rank up there with such headlines as “Sky shown to be blue” “Water, it’s wet! ” and “Darkness to follow setting of sun tonight”?

    B) Jack says “and if just the smallest criticism of Islam or Muhammed is met with threats and violence I would say that journalists should be investigating that and asking question…”.

    Good point Jack, but please recall that the Catholics haven’t killed anyone for writing something they didn’t like in several centuries. The Moslems haven’t killed anyone for writing something they didn’t like in… oh, let me check my watch here… um… carry the two…I’d say four, maybe five hours, depending on if I did the time zone conversion right.

    One of the points behind the whole Danish Cartoon flap was to intimidate the western media into not publishing things the Islamic hardliners don’t like. Not that this was a terribly hard thing to do anyway.

    Don’t expect a hard hitting investigation along the lines you mention. Someone might do it, but I wouldn’t hold my breath.

    C) Kudos to Kevin! I was thinking the same thing. Before he created Islam Mohammed had been to Jerusalem and seen both Christianity and Judiasim, as well has having met the (now extinct) Jews of Arabia. He borrowed heavily from both sources, as well as the tradtional Arabic religions that were already in place.

    So I would have to agree. It isn’t the part about praying 5 times a day, or giving alms, or piety that is wrong with Islam. Those are all good and praseworthy things. It’s the bits about beating women and killing Jews and jihad that cause problems.

  • Deacon John M. Bresnahan

    I’m surprised, (well, really not) that none of the media mentioned the forced conversion of two fellow reporters at gunpoint only a few weeks ago and the murder of a priest “in the name of Allah” a few months ago as reasons a pope might be concerned about the problem terrorist Islamic violence causes in the modern world and so ruminates about Islamic violence and its roots in an academic setting. And, Allah forbid, that what he said be reported in some context instead of enflaming headlines (which only help contribute to our own self-censorship (“dhimmitude”) regarding open and honest debate regarding religious violence in the modern world and its roots and sources.

  • Discernment

    I’m waiting to see if anyone else will step up in support of the Pope. If any other Christian leaders are going to officially do it, I’d expect (perhaps naïvely if my brother is to believed) the Orthodox patriarchs to be among the first. If any governments are going to support him, I’d expect it from the governments of Italy and among those in Latin America.

    But I suppose — if they’re considering it at all — they’re all waiting to see if Benedict will issue any other statements about what he said and what he meant.

  • MattK


    Who knows what other Christian groups or governments will do. But t is hard for me to see the Orthodox bishops supporting the Pope. Muslims in Gaza used his remarks as an excuse to attack an Orthodox church building today. I’m sure that didn’t endear the Pope to Patriarch Irinaios, even if the Pope was merely quoting an Orthodox Roman Emperor.

    Don’t hold you breath waiting for major media to support the Pope, either. I heard an NPR reporter refer to the Pope’s words as “incriminating”. That sounds impartial to me. Doesn’t it sound impartial to you?

  • Mike Hyland

    Let’s see what kind of grit God’s spokesperson on Earth has in his rebuttal. I hope he’d answer, like GWB and all news worthy events screaming out since 9/11 calling on the World to DISARM ISLAM. That would bring World Peace.

    Then again he might lose the political correctness and respond like NYPost’s Ralph Peters

    September 15, 2006 — ISLAMIST terror is a deadly threat we have barely begun to address. Yet religion-fueled fanaticism in the Middle East shouldn’t surprise us: The tradition pre-dates the Prophet’s birth by thousands of years.
    Terrorists just have better tools these days.

    What should amaze us isn’t the terrorists’ strength, which has limits, but the comprehensive failure of Middle Eastern civilization. Given all the wealth that’s poured into the region, its vast human resources and all of its opportunities for change, the mess the Middle East has made of itself is stunning.

    Beyond Israel, the region hasn’t produced a single first-rate government, army, economy, university or industry. It hasn’t even produced convincing second-raters.

    Culturally, the region is utterly noncompetitive. Societies stagnate as populations seethe. To the extent it exists, development benefits the wealthy and powerful. The common people are either ignored or miserably oppressed – and not just the women….. read on

  • Libertine

    I’m interested in the press coverage about how Benedict’s approach to Christian-Islamic interfaith dialogue varies from his predecessor’s. Tmatt’s wry(?) query about whether the new Pope will kiss the Koran is a good launching pad for comparisons.

  • David Tan

    It’s an extremely volatile situation. On one hand the muslim world is not averse to insulting Jews and Christians but it is often quick to take offense at the slightest hint of provocation – it does not matter if anyone has actually read the entire speech (Salman Rushdie, anyone?).I do not know if an apology will help and I wonder if capitulating to threats is the right thing too. Muslims feel it’s high time the rest of the world give them the respect they crave, if not the dominance they seek. And they are keeping score.

  • FzxGkJssFrk

    I think most of the dhimmitude problem boils down to the fact that a lot of Westerners think Muslims crave respect, when they actually seek dominance. Dhimmitude is a way for Muslims to gain dominance by using the West’s “tolerance” against it. The New York Times’ Pope Benedict editorial this morning, which Rod Dreher has already blasted, is basically a call for dhimmitude.

  • Larry Rasczak

    David says “It’s an extremely volatile situation. On one hand the muslim world is not averse to insulting Jews and Christians…” actually Daivid it’s not the insults that are the problem. It is the mass murders, the suicide bombings, the beheadings, the rocket attacks on civilian settlements, the car bombings, the murders and calls to murder authors, film makers and cartoonists, the riots, and that whole “flying airliners into tall buildings” thing too.

  • Discernment


    Perhaps you’re right, but I find it hard to come up with a good reason why they shouldn’t support him.

  • Discernment

    And oh,

    But German Chancellor Angela Merkel has come to the pontiff’s defence, saying the aim of the speech had been misunderstood.

    Pope ‘sorry’ for offence to Islam

  • Eric Weiss

    Having read the speech, it seems to me that the Pope’s remarks about Islam are few, and ironically (i.e., in view of the response to his speech) his using Islam as an example may not be germane or crucial to his main point; i.e., IMO he could have used another ideology or introduced his thesis with a different example. His thesis seems to be that there is a rationality about God, and the Greek culture and mindset in which the New Testament arose positively enhanced and impacted the faith. He is attacking the de-Hellenization of the faith.

    His comments may just as much relate to Orthodox theology about God’s essence versus His energies as they do to Islam’s theology about God’s unknowability and freedom to be totally irrational:

    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 ultimately 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 Hazn 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 unlikeness remains infinitely greater than likeness, yet not to the point of abolishing analogy and its language (cf. Lateran IV).

    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 “transcends” knowledge and is thereby capable of perceiving more than thought alone (cf. Ephesians 3:19); nonetheless it continues to be love of the God who is logos. Consequently, Christian worship is “logic latreía” — worship in harmony with the eternal Word and with our reason (cf. Romans 12:1).

  • John George

    Having read the Pope’s comments, I wonder if the situation was inflamed because of irresponsible reporting. I think (and hope) the leaders of the Islamic world were responding to Western press reports that termed the Pope’s speech derogatory to Islam –

    “…while neither explicitly agreeing with nor repudiating them.”

    What better way to deflect criticism from the growing “secularism” that the Pope decries and how is it that the reporters have not asked the next logical question – Do these protests mean Islamic leaders (even moderates) support the idea of Jihad as a means of religious and political violence?

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  • Jeff

    Pope Benedict XVI was very courageous in saying what needs to be said in regards to Islamo-Fascism. And he hasn’t apologized for what he said. He just said he is sorry that the Muslims were offended.

    But, I guess the Muslims can’t handle the truth.

    By the way, leftists have come out and renounced the Pope’s comments.

    Here is what one liberal blogger posted.

    “I feel empathy for the muslims who just got bitch slapped by the pope because I had a boyfriend like that once. ”

    Spoken like a true member of the Democratic Party base. Treats foreign affairs like it was the Jerry Springer show.

  • David Tomlin

    I have read the speech and pondered it. It is a disgusting pack of lies.

    Benedict is a scholar specializing in aspects of Christian theology. He is not an expert on Islam, and most of what this speech contains on the subject is wrong.

    Taking the quoted bits in context does not improve them. The speech as a whole is even more offensive. It is both inflammatory and wrong.

  • David Tomlin

    Good point Jack, but please recall that the Catholics haven’t killed anyone for writing something they didn’t like in several centuries.

    ‘The last case of an execution at an auto de fe by the Spanish Inquisition was the schoolmaster Cayetano Ripoll, accused of deism and executed by garroting July 26, 1826 in Valencia after a two-year trial.’

  • James Spencer

    Has anyone noticed this BBC article (presently on the News front page) :

    The lead is:

    The furore over the Pope’s remarks about Islam has left many Catholics inside and outside the Vatican shaking their heads in disbelief.

    and further on it says:

    “But for others, the row has highlighted their concerns about the Pope’s attitude towards the Church’s relations with the Islamic world.”

    However if you read the article they only quote, directly or indirectly, one source – Thomas Reese – and that was from an interview in April. Which fact checker let that through?

  • Will

    Repeating comment posted on wrong tab.
    Grouchy heraldrist checking in again. That is NOT “the Pope’s crest” you depicted above. That is the Pope’s ACHIEVEMENT, incorporating the Pope’s ARMS, which does not even INCLUDE a crest, because priests don’t wear helmets, and do not attempt to balance things on top of miters. Your reference is on a level with calling an altar a “chalice”. (Or “crow’s ear.)

    The press just doesn’t get heraldry.

  • Dennis_Mahon

    ‘The last case of an execution at an auto de fe by the Spanish Inquisition was the schoolmaster Cayetano Ripoll, accused of deism and executed by garroting July 26, 1826 in Valencia after a two-year trial.’

    Which would have been quite a neat trick, since Ferdinand VII was forced by the liberal opposition to abolish The Holy Office on March 9th, 1820.