The Regensburg Lecture (book review)

A book review from The Movie Snob

The Regensburg Lecture, by James V. Schall, S.J (St. Augustine’s Press 2007). On September 12, 2006, Pope Benedict XVI gave a lecture at the University of Regensburg in Germany. The title of the lecture was “Faith, Reason and the University: Memories and Reflections.” A few days later, there was an intense negative reaction to this lecture in the Muslim world. I was curious about what exactly the Pope had said, but never curious enough to find and read the text.

This little book contains the text of the lecture (about 16 small pages), prefaced by about 130 pages of reflections on that lecture by Father Schall, who is a professor of government at Georgetown University. It also contains an August 2006 essay by Father Schall entitled “On the Term ‘Islamo-Fascism,'” which is also available online at http://www.ignatiusinsight.com.

The book and lecture are dense but interesting. The passage of the lecture that seems to have provoked the most outrage was the Pope’s quotation from a dialogue written by a Byzantine emperor in the late 1300s. As the emperor was facing imminent siege by Muslim forces, it is not surprising that he was not particularly complimentary of Islam, but the remarks that the Pope focused on were the assertions (1) that attempting to spread religious faith through violence is unreasonable, and (2) that acting unreasonably is contrary to God’s nature. The Pope discusses the strain in Islamic thought that God is so utterly transcendent that His will bears no relation to our categories of rationality. He concedes that similar strains of thought have been known in Christian philosophy as well, but he insists that reason and the reasonableness of God are fundamental to Christianity, rightly understood, from its very beginning. And he argues that the university should and must struggle to maintain its openness to all aspects of reason. He acknowledges and argues against the tendency in modern thought to leap from a sensible premise–that science can measure only physical reality–to an unproved conclusion–that only physical reality exists. As I say, it is a dense lecture, and Father Schall only partially demystified it for me. But I enjoyed it, and I appreciated getting to see firsthand what had caused those riots and such.

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