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Father James Schall on Benedict XVI's Regensburg Address

WASHINGTON, D.C., OCT. 5, 2006 (Zenit) - The "unreasoned" reaction to Benedict XVI's recent speech at the University of Regensburg has proved that his point needed much attention, says a U.S. scholar.

Jesuit Father James Schall, professor of political philosophy at Georgetown University, is author of "The Life of the Mind: On the Joys and Travails of Thinking".

He shared with us why he thinks the Regensburg lecture was liberating and imperative, and how the reaction to it highlighted the modern disconnect between faith and reason.

Q: At Regensburg, Benedict XVI highlighted the Christian understanding of God as Logos. How does the idea of God as Logos differ from an Islamic conception of God?

Father Schall: The Holy Father posed the fundamental question that lies behind all the discussion about war and terror. If God is Logos, it means that a norm of reason follows from what God is. Things are, because they have natures and are intended to be the way they are because God is what he is: He has his own inner order.

If God is not Logos but "Will," as most Muslim thinkers hold Allah to be, it means that, for them, Logos places a "limit" on Allah. He cannot do everything because he cannot do both evil and good. He cannot do contradictories.

Thus, if we want to "worship" Allah, it means we must be able to make what is evil good or what is good evil. That is, we can do whatever is said to be the "will" of Allah, even if it means doing violence as if it were "reasonable."

Otherwise, we would "limit" the "power" of Allah. This is what the Pope meant about making violence "reasonable." This different conception of the Godhead constitutes the essential difference between Christianity and Islam, both in their concept of worship and of science.

Q: Your newest book is entitled, "The Life of the Mind: On the Joys and Travails of Thinking." In what way is the life of the mind a participation in the Logos of God?

Father Schall: Aquinas says that truth is the "conformity of the mind with reality." This means that a reality exists that we do not ourselves make. It is a reality that cannot be "otherwise" by our own will. It also means that God established what is, not we ourselves.

Thus, if we are to know the "truth," which is what makes us "free," it means that we know what God created, is what it is. We rejoice to know the truth that we did not make. The wonder of what is, elates us.

If Allah is pure will, then anything that is, can be the opposite of what it is, so that nothing really is what it is. It can always be otherwise.

Q: Is Benedict XVI's discussion of "faith and reason" different from John Paul II's encyclical "Fides et Ratio"?

Father Schall: I am not aware of much difference. "Fides et Ratio," as I tried to show in my book, "Roman Catholic Political Philosophy," is itself a defense of philosophy. But it recognizes that faith is also a guide to philosophy. Not all philosophies reach the reality that is.

Both Pontiffs are concerned that faith directs itself to reason and that reason is a reality that is not invented by the human mind. We did not fabricate the mind we have that thinks. We are to use it. We invent neither it nor reality.

Both Popes hold philosophy to be possible and available to every person. But they also recognize that some philosophies cannot defend either faith or reality. This is the problem with the "voluntarism" of classical Islamist philosophy. This same philosophy exists in the West, as Benedict indicated.

Indeed, the Regensburg lecture was directed as much at the West as at Islam on this score. Those who justify abortion follow the exact same philosophical position that the Pope saw in the medieval Muslim thinker from Cordova.

Q: Benedict XVI argued that the synthesis of Hellenistic and Hebrew thought is present as early as the Old Testament wisdom books, but reaches its fullest expression in the Gospel of John. Why is this position important for the Church in what Benedict XVI calls the "dialogue of cultures"?

Father Schall: The fact that Benedict referred to a "dialogue of cultures" shows that he had more than the West and Islam in mind; China and India are also in his scope. The Pope is clear that the command to Paul to go to Macedonia was itself providential.

Indeed, like John Paul II's trip to Poland, Benedict's visit to Regensburg is providential. Both aimed at the crucial problem of our time. We forget that the papacy is not just another human power, though it is also human. It is uncanny how the contemporary world, to its own surprise, continually finds itself watching the papacy.

The Pope says that reason is now also an element of faith. He does not mean that it ceases to be reason. That is why he, as a Pope, gave a "lecture," whose only public claim was its own intrinsic reasonableness. Of its very nature, a lecture demands not passion but reason to grasp what it says.

When within days after the lecture, storms swelled all through the Islamic world, with lots of objections in the West -- including in Catholic circles -- it was clear that Benedict's address was not read for what it said.

It was not translated immediately into Arabic in leading Muslim papers. Most read only snippets in the West. The spirit of an academic lecture, to present the truth of what is, was violated.

The Muslim world, I suspect, is beginning to have second thoughts about its unrestricted reaction to this address. Its actual reaction did not prove the Pope was "insensitive" or "insulting." Rather it proved that his point needed much attention, just as he intended.

Q: Benedict XVI's speech was also a criticism of the Western world; it should have found many receptive ears among Muslims. Yet, the speech has been widely criticized and denounced, proving the point the Pope was trying to make about reason for the dialogue of cultures. Does this spell doom for Benedict XVI's project?

Father Schall: My own opinion is that Benedict was not surprised by these reactions. Indeed, I suspect it is precisely this unreasoned reaction that has made his point so clearly that no sane mind can deny it. It was a point that had to be made.

It could not have been made by the politicians, who in fact did not make it even when they needed it. Politicians talked about "terrorists," as if a more fundamental theological problem was not at issue. Until this deeper issue was spelled out, which is what the Regensburg lecture was about, we were doomed.

This address is probably one of the most liberating addresses ever given by a Pope or anyone else. As its import sinks in, those who were unwilling to consider what it was about will find themselves either embarrassed -- if they are honest -- or more violent, if they refuse the challenge of reason.

Make no mistake about it: This address illuminated, more than anything that we know, the problems with a modernity based on an explicit or implicit voluntarism that postulated that we could change the world, our nature, our God according to our own wills.

Q: The Western media have often taken Benedict XVI's words out of context and stoked the flames of Islamic aggression. How does the cultural dominance and hostility to the Church by the mass media affect its ability to participate in the dialogue of cultures?

Father Schall: There can be no "dialogue" about anything until the basic principles of reason are granted both in theory and practice. Chesterton remarked on the fact that those who begin to attack the Church for this or that reason, mostly end up attacking it for any reason.

What is behind the attack on reason or the refusal to admit that God is Logos is already a suspicion that the Church is right about intellect and its conditions. We have no guarantee that reason will freely be accepted.

Von Balthasar said that we are warned that we are sent among wolves. We are naive to think that Christ was wrong when he warned us that the world would hate us for upholding Logos and the order of things it implies.

But Benedict is right. He has put the citizens of world on notice that they are also accountable for how they use or do not use their reason. No one else could have done this. The fact is, the world has wildly underestimated Benedict XVI precisely because it would not see the ability he displays in getting to the heart of intellectual things.

In the end, all of this is about "the life of the mind." Both reason and faith tell us so.

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Keywords

God, Allah, Catholic, Muslim, Islam, Schall, Regensburg

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