The Pope Who Revolutionized Catholic Dialogue with Islam

The Pope Who Revolutionized Catholic Dialogue with Islam December 18, 2015

You'll have to sit down for this one (Source: Flickr, Author: State Chancellery of Latvia, CC BY 2.0).
You’ll have to sit down for this one (Source: Flickr Ministru prezidents Valdis Dombrovskis tiekas ar Romas katoļu baznīcas pāvestu Benediktu XVI, Author: State Chancellery of Latvia, CC BY 2.0).

You might think it’s Francis, but it’s not.

The Wheaton College affair seemed like a garden-variety Evangelical-outrage news item to me at first. (See? Secularists didn’t invent outrage culture, nor are Catholics immune!).

Then I noticed the professor was suspended for quoting (actually paraphrasing) Pope Francis.

In turn Pope Francis was only affirming the little known Catholic high regard for Islam during his speech at the Bangui Central Mosque:

Yes, Catholic attitudes toward other religions have shifted drastically before.
Yes, Catholic attitudes toward other religions have shifted drastically before.

Those who claim to believe in God must also be men and women of peace. Christians, Muslims and members of the traditional religions have lived together in peace for many years. They ought, therefore, to remain united in working for an end to every act which, from whatever side, disfigures the Face of God and whose ultimate aim is to defend particular interests by any and all means, to the detriment of the common good. Together, we must say no to hatred, to revenge and to violence, particularly that violence which is perpetrated in the name of a religion or of God himself. God is peace, salam.

While this does not directly say that Christians and Muslims worship the same God, the implication is there to be drawn. There is nothing unusual in this.

This revolutionary high regard for Islam originated in Vatican II, and, obviously, theological disputes before then. It seems to have totally slipped under the radar, much like the change in Catholic attitudes toward Judaism. Somewhere between the 1930’s and Vatican II Catholicism overhauled its understanding of Judaism. It was done so quietly and thoroughly that Catholic anti-Semites don’t realize how much they’ve been left out in the cold.

These unheralded developments paved the road for St. John Paul II to ramp up dialogue with Judaism during his pontificate. He visited Synagogues, the Wailing Wall, convened meetings with Jewish theologians, and, most importantly, made apologies for Christian atrocities. The effort to change attitudes was both fruitful and intentional.

A book like this would've been unthinkable without Benedict's felix culpa.
A book like this would’ve been unthinkable without Benedict’s felix culpa.

What’s less known is how Benedict XVI unintentionally jump-started dialogue with Muslims after his Regensburg Address.

The retired pope seemed to be one of the most unlucky people when it came to catching a PR break. I suppose that’s why even some professional Catholics haven’t heard about the Regensburg felix culpa.

David B. Burrell tallies up this happy fault in his Towards a Jewish-Christian-Muslim Theology:

I have been overwhelmed by the rapprochement between Christians and Muslims at various levels since Pope Benedict’s speech at Regensburg in 2006. His ill-advised example, apparently in homage to a one-time colleague at the university distracted from a recondite thesis . . .

OK, so it starts off bad enough, but then Burrell gives credit to Pope Benedict where credit is due as he continues:

. . . on the role reason has to play in elaborating religious tradition, eliciting an astutely critical response from 38 scholars within a month. And a year later, a carefully constructed document entitled (from the Koran) A Common Word Between Us, precipitated an exchange unprecedented in the last fourteen centuries.

The author of Towards a Jewish-Christian-Muslim Theology then concludes by summarizing the significance of this chain of events created by Benedict XVI:

Something had happened, without without astute guidance, which called for a reassessment of the commonalities between these two often estranged traditions.

In this way Benedict’s papacy, far beyond the headlines of the day, once again proves itself to be a radical, for some even disturbing, papacy.

I didn’t expect any of these developments when I attended this Mass not long after Pope Benedict’s election. I’m always happy to be surprised in such good ways. Felix culpa, indeed.

If you enjoyed this post, then you should consider reading the following:

What Christian Group Says It Worships Same God as Muslims?

Wheaton College Professor Suspended for Expressing Catholic Position on Islam

Islam Does Not Need a Reformation 

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