Month: January 2008

Some Political Reading . . .

Just to alert my reader that if I’m not posting here, there’s a good chance that I’m posting to our collective blog: Catholics in the Public Square, featuring contributions from Jay Anderson (Pro Ecclesia), Oswald Sobrino (Catholic Analysis), Jeff Miller (Curt Jester) and David Schrader (Catholics for Bush) — together with my own meager contributions:

One of my daily haunts is Vox Nova: Catholic Perspectives on Culture, Society and Politics — a blogging collective of “diverse social outlooks, traversing a wide range of demographics and political sympathies,” striving to be “free, to the furthest extent possible, from partisanship, nationalism and demagoguery, all of which banish intellectual honesty from rational discourse.”

Whether or not they actually succeed in this endeavor is of course part of the appeal, along with thought-provoking (and sometimes infuriating) discussions in the combox.

I also check in occasionally with:

  •’s “Inside Politics” has a daily offering from diverse Catholic perspectives. Their page “Catholic Advocate” keeps track of Catholic elected officials: “Are they voting in line with their faith, or exploiting their Catholicism for political advantage?” Let the legislation do the talking.
  • “Political News and Community”
  • Worldwide Standard, blog of the Weekly Standard
  • The Wall Street Journal’s “Best of the Web Today”, edited by James Taranto provides a good snapshot of daily political chatter. Usually updated every evening.

Pope Benedict, Sapienza University and the Intolerance of Radical Secularism

La Sapienza University is the largest European university and the most ancient of Rome’s three public universities. It was founded in 1303 by Pope Boniface VIII — in 1870, it was secularized and became the university of the capital of Italy. [Source: Wikipedia]. This year, Pope Benedict XVI was scheduled to speak to 1,000 hand-picked guests in the Aula Magna, the main lecture hall, at the inauguration of the academic year.

Times have changed, however — no longer a Christian institution, students and faculty, obstinate in their militant secularism, have voiced their resentment at the Holy Father’s scheduled appearance; the faculty with a signed letter of protest signed by 67 lecturers and professors; students with four days of increasingly hostile demonstrations. The Times reports:

A hundred militant left wing students had occupied the office of Professor Renato Guarini, the university rector, to demand that the papal visit be cancelled because of Benedict’s “obscurantist” stand on science in general and the Church’s treatment of Galileo as a heretic in particular. Sixty-seven science professors and lecturers at La Sapienza signed a letter to Professor Guarini calling on him to scrap the visit. Professor Guarini said the Pope was “saddened” by the protests.

Students had said they would greet the Pope with a “sonic siege” of loud rock music – which he once defined as “the devil’s work” – an “anti clerical” gay and lesbian parade and banners reading “No Pope” and “Knowledge needs neither fathers no priests”. . . .

Sergio Doplicher, a mathematics lecturer, said “I have no objection to the Pope coming to give us his blessing but have serious reservations about him restating the supremacy of faith over science and of moral principles over the lay values protected by the Italian Constitution”.

Behind the controversy over faith and science lies a broader row over what many see as the Vatican’s interference in Italian affairs on issues such as stem cell research, abortion and same sex civil unions. The Pope was to speak on the death penalty and the wider theme of the Church’s “defence of life”.

The La Sapienza student website said Pope Benedict had “condemned centuries of scientific and cultural growth by affirming anachronistic dogmas such as Creationism while attacking scientific free thought and promoting mandatory heterosexuality”.

A student walks by banners against Pope Benedict XVIAccording to Reuters:

. . . The first day on Monday revolved around an “anti-clerical” meal of bread, pork and wine and a banner reading: “Knowledge needs neither fathers nor priests”.

Meanwhile, a poster bearing the message ”Knowledge is secular” has appeared outside the university under the statue of Minerva which is its symbol.

In defense of Galileo?

“Fra Giordano [Bruno] was burned, Galileo recanted, We will resist the Papacy, 17 January – Anti-Clerical Day, 12 Noon, Aldo Moro Square.To do science is not a crime, Secular-Self determining Knowledge, Sexual Liberty, LGBT Rights, NO POPE” — “That’s what passes for intelligent discourse in some quarters, friends.” Zadok The Roman

According to Richard Owen the Times, at the root of the faculty‘s dispute with the pope is remarks made by Cardinal Ratzinger some 17 years ago, concerning the Church’s condemnation of Galileo in 1633:

In their letter the La Sapienza scientists, including Andrea Frova, author of a study of Galileo, and Carlo Maiani, the head of the Italian National Council for Research, said they felt “offended and humiliated” by a statement made in 1990 by the then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger suggesting the trial of Galileo for heresy because of his support for the Copernican system was justified in the context of the time.

Pope John Paul II acknowledged that the Roman Catholic Church had erred in condemning Galileo in 1633 for asserting that the Earth revolves around the Sun. Galileo was forced to recant and spent the remaining eight years of his life under house arrest.

John Paul said the Inquisition had “transposed into the realm of the doctrine of the faith” a matter which had to do with scientific investigation, but added it was working “within the knowledge available at the time” and had guarded the integrity of the Catholic Faith. Cardinal Ratzinger, as John Paul’s head of doctrine, observed that “At the time of Galileo the Church remained much more faithful to reason than Galileo himself. The process against Galileo was reasonable and just”.

Unfortunately, the Times reporting (which is indicative of the understanding of the Sapienza faculty) is factually incorrect and reveals a gross misunderstanding of what Ratzinger actually said.
From L’Osservatore Romano, Professor Giorgio Israel (translation by the Papa Ratzinger Forum):

They accuse him of having said – in a lecture he gave at La Sapienza on February 15, 1990 {cfr J. Ratzinger, Wendezeit für Europa? Diagnosen und Prognosen zur Lage von Kirche und Welt, Einsiedeln-Freiburg, Johannes Verlag, 1991, pp. 59 e 71) – a statement that was actually from the philosopher of science, Paul Feyerabend: “In the time of Galileo, the Church was much more faithful to reason than Galileo himself. The trial of Galileo was reasonable and just.”

But none of them bothered to read the lecture in full and carefully. Its theme was the crisis of faith in itself that science has, and he cited as an example the changing of attitudes about the Galileo case.

If Galileo had become – in the 18th century, the century of the Enlightenment – emblematic of the Church’s ‘medieval obscurantism’, the attitude changed in the 20th century when Ernst Bloch, for instance, pointed out that Galileo never showed convincing proof of a heliocentric cosmos, to the statement by Feyerabend – described by Ratzinger in the lecture as ‘an agnostic-skeptic philosopher’ – and by Carl von Weiszsacker who said there was a straight line from Galileo to the atom bomb.

These citations were not used by the cardinal to seek vindication or to make justifications: “It would be absurd,” he said “to construct a hasty apologetics on the basis of these statements. Faith does not grow out of resentment or the rejection of reason.”

The citations he made were clearly used as proof of how much “modernity’s doubts about itself have now involved even science and technology.”

In other words, the 1990 lecture could well be considered – by anyone who reads it with the minimum attention – a defense of Galilean rationality against the skepticism and relativism of post-modern culture.

As John Allen Jr. remarks:

In a nutshell, therefore, Benedict is being faulted by the physics professors for quoting somebody else’s words, which his full text suggests he does not completely share. (Readers who remember Regensburg can be forgiven a sense of déjà-vu.)

Also by way of John Allen, Jr., the comments by then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger on the Galileo case, excerpted from A Turning Point for Europe? The Church and Modernity in the Europe of Upheavals, Paoline Editions, 1992, pp. 76-79. [The excerpted passage also appears on pages 95-98 of the 1994 Ignatius Press edition].

Benedict cancels — and turns the tables on Sapienza protestors

January 16, 2008

Responding to the protests of faculty members and students, Pope Benedict XVI cancels his appearance at Sapienza University. Notice of the pope’s cancellation was conveyed by Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone sent to the rector of the Università La Sapienza, prof. Renato Guarini, together with the address Benedict XVI would have given:

Esteemed Rector,the Holy Father had gladly accepted your invitation to visit the Università degli Studi “La Sapienza”, to offer in this way a sign of affection and of the high regard in which he holds this illustrious institution, which originated centuries ago at the behest of his venerated predecessor.

But since, at the initiative of a decidedly minority group of professors and students, the conditions for a dignified and peaceful welcome were lacking, it has been judged prudent to delay the scheduled visit in order to remove any pretext for demonstrations that would have been unpleasant for all. But in the awareness of the sincere desire on the part of the great majority of the professors and students for culturally significant words from which they can take encouragement for their personal journey in search of the truth, the Holy Father has arranged to send you the text he prepared personally for the occasion. I gladly act as the agent of his decision, attaching the written address with the hope that all may find within it ideas for enriching reflections and examinations.

I gladly take this opportunity to extend to you, with feelings of profound deference, my cordial regards,

Tarcisio Card. Bertone
Secretary of State

From, translation of the speech Benedict XVI planned to deliver Thursday at La Sapienza University in Rome..

According to Zenit News Service, Benedict’s address was read by another professor during the inauguration, to much acclaim:

During the inauguration ceremony, a professor read the discourse the Holy Father had prepared for the occasion. A standing ovation and students’ shouts of “Long live the Pope” followed the reading.

Fabio Mussi, the Italian minister of education, and Walter Veltroni, the mayor of Rome, were present.

Meanwhile, Italian leaders voiced their dismay at the Pope’s cancellation (Catholic World News):

Italian president Giorgio Napolitano released a statement condemning the “inadmissible intolerance” shown by the campus protestors, who had planned to greet the Pope with loud rock music, anti-clerical posters, and parades of militant homosexuals. Prime Minister Romano Prodi said that the protests had “provoke unacceptable tensions and created a climate that does not honor Italy’s traditions of civility and tolerance.”

Rome’s Mayor Walter Veltroni added his perspective that the Pope’s appearance on campus would have been “another great opportunity for the city of Rome to show itself as the center of civil dialogue.” While intellectual debates are welcome, he said, the “intolerant behavior” of a minority at La Sapienza was “bad for democracy and liberty.” The former Italian prime minister, Silvio Berlusconi, went further, saying that the incident was “humiliating” and a “shameful day” for Italy.

A group of university students of the Communion and Liberation movement greeted the Pope with chants of “Freedom! Freedom!” at the beginning of his general audience

“So there are three places where the pope cannot go: Moscow, Beijing, and the university of Rome”, commented one of the young people present at the audience. “If Benedict does not go to La Sapienza, La Sapienza comes to Benedict”, read one of the banners that the young people raised.

Pope Benedict XVI is greeted by La Sapienza University students at the end of his weekly general audienceThe pope did not mention the affair, not even in the greeting that he addressed to the students. For the second week, Benedict XVI dedicated the discourse of his general audience to Saint Augustine, dwelling in particular on the last year of the life of the bishop of Hippo, who died during the Vandal assault on his city in 430. The pope emphasised in particular Augustine’s call to the pastors to remain close to the faithful in moments of difficulty, as so many priests have done so often throughout history.

January 17, 2008

Calling the Sapienza protests a “painful blow to the entire city of Rome,” Cardinal Camillo Ruini, the Pope’s Vicar for the Diocese of Rome, called on the faithful to gather in St. Peter’s Square during the recitation of the Angelus to show their support for Pope Benedict XVI (Catholic News Agency). In contrast to the violent and hate-filled demonstrations at Sapienza, he emphasized the Angelus would be a sign of peace and spiritual solidarity:

“Next Sunday’s event will be a moment of prayer, any other motivation in the people joining us at St. Peter’s Square would be unwelcome and out of place,” Cardinal Ruini told the Vatican daily L’Osservatore Romano.

The Cardinal explained that “because of its prayerful nature, the Angelus cannot be turned into a political demonstration.”

“This will be a moment to show affection for the Holy Father and not a demonstration against the lack of receptivity from La Sapienza. It is an event that want to express the feelings of the majority of Romans, as well as the majority of the La Sapienza community,” Cardinal Ruini added.

The gathering at St. Peter’s square next Sunday, therefore, “must be in tune with the classic tone of the Angelus, which is a moment to listen to God’s word and also a moment to listen to the Holy Father, to be with him, to greet him.”

In an interview with ‘Corriere della Sera, Ruini also remarked that “some signs of solidarity” with the Pope by attendees of Sappienza University had come too late.

January 18, 2008


  • Dangers of anti-Catholic academic extremism, by Hugh McNichol. Catholic News Agency. January 16, 2008:

    The dissenting students and faculty are adamant about the perception that the Holy Father is “anti-science,” in his papal ministry and his theological ponderings. There really cannot be anything further from the truth than branding the former Joseph Ratzinger, an esteemed theologian and scholar as someone that is an antithesis of scientific research and discovery. Perhaps the real matter at hand here is the inclusion of individuals that have a desire to eliminate any inclusion of theological related theories into the study and development of modern science. It appears to this author that what is going on here is sort of reverse Inquisition, which seeks to defame any pursuit and inclusion of religious beliefs into the empirical world of scientific observation and discovery. This protest by the students and faculty of Rome’s Sapienza University is the precipice of a slippery slope that really threatens a global appreciation of Catholic theological development and its historical foundations. The protesters involved in this dispute seem mainly to be concerned with the fact that the Church in the past has at times dealt a rather heavy hand to the empirical sciences and at times was consistently opposed to certain paths of scientific study.

    How unfortunate that a university that has in the foundational root of its name and purpose the word, Sapienza…which means wisdom or knowledge is directly opposed to the free exchange and development of scientific ideas simply because they are speculated by the Bishop of Rome. Such animosity against a papal visit clearly indicates the university has excluded many aspects of free philosophical thought and its open expression for the extremely parochial view of secular science sans theological and historical appreciation for the pursuit of higher studies in the physical sciences. Could it be that there is a movement at play here that reeks of secular humanism and purely empirical science that is seeking to undermine the philosophical expressions of natural law and the expression of right reason?

  • Joaquin Navarro-Valls on the pope, science, and La Sapienza la Repubblica January 17, 2008:

    In truth, however, the invitation to Benedict XVI wasn’t handled especially well, since it was issued by the Rector without being confirmed by the Academic Senate. In addition, the presence of the pope became caught up in a political struggle internal to the university itself, which would probably have erupted in some other way, but which was able to exploit this high-profile event that was ideally suited for obtaining its ends.

    Even though the internal context of the university is highly complex, one still has to understand the reasons that were adopted in support of the dissent from the visit of the pope, on the part not only of a group of 67 professors, a modest three percent of the faculty, but also a noisy, albeit small, group of students.

    In effect, it’s from this point of view that the most original elements of what’s happened can be found. . . .

  • Shunning a truth-seeker, by Fr. Raymond De Souza. National Post, (Canada) January 17, 2008:

    There is no doubt that La Sapienza turning its back on the pope is a historic moment. Certainly, it is a moment that has horrified Italy. And Italy should be horrified, for it means that La Sapienza has also turned its back on the search for truth, and on freedom in the search for that truth.

  • Silencing the Pope, by Father John Flynn. Zenit News. January 20, 2008 – on “cultural clashes and impoverished secularism.”
  • Update Italian professors used Wikipedia to attack the Pope Catholic News Agency. February 6, 2008:

    The Vatican daily L’Osservatore Romano is reporting that 67 professors from La Sapienza University in Rome who wrote a letter opposing a visit by Pope Benedict XVI based their opposition on a quote taken out of context from

    The professors portrayed themselves as defenders “of freedom of research and of knowledge.” “In the name of ‘freedom of research and of knowledge,’ they have taken false information to be true, accepting an assertion without checking whether it is factual,” the Vatican newspaper reported.

    L’ Osservatore maintained that if any of the professors had checked the facts before signing the letter, “they would have realized that the author took the quote from a discourse by Ratzinger that is found under the title ‘Papa Benedetto XVI’ at, the online encyclopedia that is edited by internet users and that no man of science would use as an exclusive source for his research, unless he checked the veracity of the content.”

    “That Wikipedia in all likelihood is the source of the quote is evident by the fact that the letter from the 67 professors makes reference to a speech by Cardinal Ratzinger on March 15, 1990 in Parma. The speech was given, but it took place in Rome, at La Sapienza University on exactly that day,” L’ Osservatore continued. “The surprising thing is that whoever took the quote from Feyerabend could not have read the rest of the entry in Wikipedia, as he would have realized that the meaning of Ratzinger’s statement is exactly the opposite of what the 67 claimed the Pope was saying.”

  • Update Rector of La Sapienza visits with the Pope Catholic News Agency February 21, 2008:

    According to Vatican sources, Guarini brought the presents with him that he was supposed to give to the Pope on January 17, the date of his cancelled commencement speech at Italy’s largest university.

    According to the Vatican Press Office, the meeting between Pope Benedict and Guarini lasted 30 minutes, during which both spoke about “the role of the University in contemporary society,” and its contribution to “building a new Humanism.”

    There were also “some reflections” about the cancellation of the Pope’s visit, but the possibility of a new invitation for the Pope to visit La Sapienza, was not discussed.

    Guarini gave the Pope two presents: a medal with the university’s coat of arms and a facsimile copy of the 1303 Pope Boniface VIII’s bull creating the ‘Studium Urbis,’ which would later become La Sapienza.

Pope Benedict Roundup!


  • 12/01/07 – In his December 2nd Angelus, Benedict took the opportunity to summarize his second encyclical, Spe Salvi (“Saved in Hope”):

    [In Romans 8:24] . . . the word “hope” is closely connected with the word “faith.” It is a gift that changes the life of those who receive it, as the experience of so many saints demonstrates. In what does this hope consist that is so great and so “trustworthy” as to make us say that “in it” we have “salvation”?

    In substance it consists in the knowledge of God, in the discovery of his heart as a good and merciful Father. Jesus, with his death on the cross and his resurrection, has revealed to us his countenance, the countenance of a God so great in love as to communicate to us an indestructible hope, a hope that not even death can crack, because the life of those who entrust themselves to this Father always opens up to the perspective of eternal beatitude.

    The development of modern science has confined faith and hope more and more to the private and individual sphere, so much so that today it appears in an evident way, and sometimes dramatically, that the world needs God — the true God! — otherwise it remains deprived of hope. Science contributes much to the good of humanity — without a doubt — but it is not able to redeem humanity.

    Man is redeemed by love, which renders social life good and beautiful. Because of this the great hope, that one that is full and definitive, is guaranteed by God, by God who is love, who has visited us in Jesus and given his life to us, and in Jesus he will return at the end of time.

    It is in Christ that we hope and it is him that we await! With Mary, his Mother, the Church goes out to meet the Bridegroom: She does this with works of charity, because hope, like faith, is demonstrated in love.

  • 12/05/07 – Benedict announced that he will grant the faithful a plenary indulgence for the occasion of the 150th anniversary of the apparition of the Blessed Virgin Mary at Lourdes []. At the blog Hermeneutic of Continuity, Fr Tim Finigan discusses the meaning of plenary indulgences and the conditions for meeting them).
  • 12/11/07 – Pope Benedict released his message for the World Day of Peace, to be celebrated Jan. 1, 2008. His theme: “The Human Family, a Community of Peace“:

    … The natural family, as an intimate communion of life and love, based on marriage between a man and a woman, constitutes “the primary place of ‘humanization’ for the person and society”(3), and a “cradle of life and love”. The family is therefore rightly defined as the first natural society, “a divine institution that stands at the foundation of life of the human person as the prototype of every social order”.

    Indeed, in a healthy family life we experience some of the fundamental elements of peace: justice and love between brothers and sisters, the role of authority expressed by parents, loving concern for the members who are weaker because of youth, sickness or old age, mutual help in the necessities of life, readiness to accept others and, if necessary, to forgive them. For this reason, the family is the first and indispensable teacher of peace.

    Zenit News Service interviewed Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, on the environmental aspects of the Holy Father’s message:

    In his message for the World Day of Peace, Benedict XVI emphasized that “today humanity fears for future ecological equilibrium.”

    According to Father Lombardi, “the Pope links a powerful moral appeal to solidarity, on the basis of the recognition of a universal destination of the goods of creation, that also takes the poor and future generations into account.”

    The Vatican spokesman says that the Pope “invites dialogue, serious scientific study of the problems without ‘ideological escalation,’ wisdom in the research on ‘models of sustainable development’ and — with significant concreteness — he proposes an intensified dialogue between nations on the ‘management of the planets energy resources.’”

    Unfortunately, some in the media (true to form) attempted to stir up some controversy; the UK Daily Mail reported the story with headlines screaming “The Pope condemns the climate change prophets of doom!” (see American Papist‘s analysis: Did the Pope condemn climate change? and John Allen Jr.’s “Benedict paints a Catholic shade of green” (National Catholic Reporter December 11, 2007).

  • 12/12/07 – Pope Benedict receives his official portrait from a Russian Orthodox artist. Zenit News reports:

    Tsarkova is the first woman to be an official Vatican portrait painter. Pope John Paul II was the subject of her first official papal work. She painted him during the Jubilee Year 2000 and that portrait now hangs in the Vatican Museums.

    The private audience, which was supposed to last five minutes, lasted for 20, as Tsarkova explained the “secrets” in the painting — specifically the angels that adorn the papal throne, which, she said, “come to life.”

    Tsarkova said the angels seemed to be the Pope’s favorite aspect of the portrait, noting that in his recent discourse on the role of bishops, he compared their work to that of the angels, God’s messengers.

    Tsarkova said she wanted the painting to be symbolic. “The Holy Father,” she said, “is seated on a throne and surrounded by angels and is symbolically resting upon them, a sign of the support they give him in his ministry.”

    “In his hand, the Pope is holding a book of his discourses as a sign of his dialogue with the modern world,” the artist continued. “This is a sign of peace because it is through dialogue that we can achieve peace.”

    (See also: , by Elizabeth Lev. Zenit News Agency. December 14, 2007; Video of the unveiling; Profile: Natalia Tsarkova [in Italian]).

  • 12/13/07 – Speaking to university students of Rome, Pope Benedict spiritually entrusted his second encyclical to the young people of the world:

    After a Mass celebrated by the Pontiff’s vicar for Rome, Cardinal Camillo Ruini, the Holy Father addressed the young people: “I spiritually entrust [the encyclical] to you, dear university students of Rome, and through you, to the entire world of the university, the school, culture and of education.

    “Is the theme of hope perhaps not particularly suitable for youth?”

    He continued: “I propose to you that you reflect, individually and in groups, on that part of the encyclical which speaks about hope in the modern age.

    Click here for the full text of Benedict’s address to the university students of Rome.

  • 12/17/07 – Speaking to the Vatican Congregation for Saints’ Causes, Pope Benedict admonished them: “All those who work in the causes of saints are called to place themselves at the exclusive service of truth”:

    “Through beatifications and canonizations,” Benedict XVI added, the Church “gives thanks to God for the gift of those of his children who have responded generously to divine grace, honoring them and invoking them as intercessors.” And the Church “presents these shining examples for the imitation of all the faithful, called through baptism to sanctity, which is the aim and goal of every state of life.”

    At the same time, he said, “ecclesial communities come to realize the need, even in our own time, of witnesses capable of incarnating the perennial truth of the Gospel in the real circumstances of life, making it an instrument of salvation for the entire world.”

    The Holy Father added: “Saints, if correctly presented in their spiritual dynamism and historical reality, contribute to making the word of the Gospel and the mission of the Church more believable and attractive. Contact with them opens the way to true spiritual resurrection, lasting conversion and the flowering of new saints.

  • 12/18/07 – Pope Benedict XVI created a special panel to study the possible sainthood of a predecessor, Pius XII, although the media is divided as to his motives for doing so. According to Agence France-Presse:

    “The pope does not want to sign and intends to keep a close watch over this sensitive issue,” a Vatican source told I-media news agency, which specializes in coverage of the Holy See.

    “The best way to postpone a decision is to create a special commission.”

    ; Reuters, on the other hand, has a different perspective:

    Il Giornale reported that Benedict has decided to set up a committee in his Secretariat of State, the Vatican’s diplomatic section, to review old documents from the World War Two period and study new ones that have come to light. […]

    Last May, the Vatican’s saint-making department voted in favour of a decree recognising Pius’s “heroic virtues”, a major hurdle in a long process toward sainthood that began in 1967.

    But Benedict has so far not approved the decree, meaning that the process is effectively stalled and that Pius cannot move on to beatification, or the last step before sainthood.

    Il Giornale reporter Andrea Tornielli, who has written four books about Pius, said the Vatican was not questioning his holiness but was concerned about the wider ramifications of making him a saint too soon.

    For more information see Pope Pius XII, the Catholic Church and the Holocaust, an archive of news and commentary.

  • 12/19/07 – Donna Hobson, director of publications at the Catholic University of America, unveiled the logo for Pope Benedict’s 2008 papal visit to the United States:

    The theme reflects the Holy Father’s new encyclical, “Spe Salvi,” an invitation for people to personally encounter Jesus Christ. In the encyclical, the Pontiff said that faith in Christ brings well-founded hope in eternal salvation, the “great hope” that can sustain people through the trials of this world.

    The logo features a full color photograph of Benedict XVI waving both hands. Behind him is a yellow-screened image of the dome of St. Peter’s Basilica. In black type running at the top and over the cupola of the dome are three lines of type reading “Pope Benedict XVI/Christ Our Hope/Apostolic Journey to the United States 2008.”

  • 12/21/07 – Exchanging traditional Christmas greetings with cardinals, bishops and members of the Curia, Pope Benedict recalled some highlights of 2007 — and with particular fondness his trip to Brazil (Zenit News):

    Referring to his encounter with young people in São Paolo, he observed: “There are mass events which have the single effect of self-affirmation, in which people allow themselves to be carried away by rhythm and sounds, and end up deriving joy merely from themselves.

    “On that occasion [in Brazil], however, […] the profound communion which spontaneously arose between us caused us, by being with one another, to be for one another. It was not an escape from daily life, but became a source of strength for accepting life in a new way.”

    Recalling the May 11 canonization of Brazilian St. Antônio de Santa’Ana Galvão, the Pope said, “Each saint who enters into history represents a small portion of Christ’s return, a renewal of his entrance into time, showing us his image in a new light and making us sure of his presence.”

    “Jesus Christ does not belong to the past,” the Holy Father affirmed, “and he is not confined to a distant future. […] Together with his saints, he is […] journeying toward us, toward our today.”

    Turning to his meeting with Brazilian bishops, the Pope highlighted how “the experience of ‘effective and affectionate collegiality’ of fraternal communion in the shared ministry led us to feel the joy of catholicity. Over and above all geographical and cultural confines we are brothers, together with the risen Christ who has called us to his service.”

    Pope Benedict also commented on the theme of the General Conference of the Bishops of Latin America and the Caribbean (“Disciples and Missionaries of Jesus Christ, So That Our Peoples May Have Life in Him”):

    “Those who have recognized a great truth, those who have discovered a great joy,” he said, “must pass it on, they cannot keep it to themselves. […] In order to reach fulfillment, history needs the announcement of the good news to all peoples, to all men and women. How important it is for forces of reconciliation, of peace, of love and of justice to come together in humanity.

    “And this is what happens in the Christian mission. Through the encounter with Jesus Christ and his saints, [humankind] is re-equipped with those forces for good without which none of our plans for social order is realized but, faced with the enormous pressure of other interests contrary to peace and justice, remain as abstract theories.”

    (Click here for a roundup of Benedict’s May 2007 Apostolic Visit to Brazil).

  • 12/24/07 – Muslim scholars sent Christmas greetings, responding to the Pope’s invitation for a major dialogue session at the Vatican in 2008:

    A letter from Jordan’s Prince Ghazi bin Muhammad bin Talal, architect of the Muslim scholars’ project, said the group planned to send representatives to the Vatican in February or March to work out details of the dialogue.

    The letter, dated Dec. 12 and addressed to Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, Vatican secretary of state, thanked the pope for inviting the Muslim experts to meet with him and for the pontiff’s personal encouragement of the dialogue initiative. […]

    The prince’s letter said that although the Muslim scholars think that complete theological agreement between Christians and Muslims is impossible by definition, they do wish to seek a common stand based on areas of agreement — “whether we wish to call this kind of dialogue ‘theological’ or ‘spiritual’ or something else.”

    The Muslim response was the latest in a series of cooperative steps that began in October, when 138 Muslim scholars addressed a letter to the pope and other Christian leaders. […]

    The message noted the recent close of the Muslim feast of the hajj or pilgrimage, which commemorates the faith of the Prophet Abraham. It said God’s refusal of the sacrifice of Abraham’s son reminds all followers of the Abrahamic faiths to “do their utmost to save, uphold and treasure every single human life and especially the lives of every single child.”

    It pointed out that Muslim scholars recently issued a declaration affirming “the sanctity of human life — of every human life — as an essential and foundational teaching in Islam that all Muslim scholars are in unanimous agreement upon.”

    The Christmas greeting offered a prayer that the new year may bring “healing and peace to our suffering world” and “mutual forgiveness within and between communities.”

    For further details on this story and links to past reporting, see: Pope Benedict Responds to “A Common Word” (Muslim Invitation to Dialogue) November 29, 2007.

    For an appraisal of the state of Muslim-Christian relations and the coming meeting, see Fr. Samir Khalil’s Benedict XVI’s improbable dialogue with 138 Muslim scholars January 9, 2008 and The Cardinal Writes, the Prince Responds. The Factors that Divide the Pope from the Muslims, by Sandro Magister. http://www.Chiesa. January 2, 2008.

  • 12/25/07 – On Christmas day Pope Benedict XVI received holiday greetings from . . . Mahmoud Ahmadinejad?:

    “Hereby, I felicitate Christians, monotheists and justice seekers throughout the world on the auspicious birthday of Jesus Christ (PBUH),” an official message sent to the Roman Catholic Leader on Tuesday read.

    Jesus Christ was chosen by God to bring blessing to all human beings. The very essence of his teachings contained monotheism, justice, passion and kindness, the message added.

    “His Holiness is well informed that all divine religions seek to promote the same reality. Their paths all pass through monotheism and the promotion of moral values,” the message said.

    Shortly thereafter, the President of Iran returned to his favorite pasttimes of heaping scorn upon the United States and Israel.

Christmas 2007


  • 01/04/08 – In what had to be one of the funniest headlines of the year, Peter Popham of The Independent fumes “Science bows to theology as the Pope dismantles Vatican observatory” — the brutal fist of the Roman Catholic Church dealing a crushing blow to academic freedom? Well, not quite:

    [The Church is] dismantling of the astronomical observatory that has been part of Castel Gandolfo, south of Rome, for more than 75 years. The Pope needs more room to receive diplomats so the telescopes have to go.

    The eviction of the astronomers and their instruments, reported by the Italian daily Corriere della Sera, and their removal to a disused convent a mile away, marks the end of a period of intimacy between popes and priest-astronomers that has lasted well over a century.

    Father Jose G Funes, the present director of the observatory, known as the Specola Vaticana, insisted that there was no sinister significance in the move. “It is not a downgrading of science in the Vatican,” he said. “To remain within the palace would have had only a symbolic significance, whereas where we are going we will be even more comfortable.

  • 01/01/08 – On New Year’s Day Pope Benedict greeted more than 2 million participants in a pro-family march in Madrid, urging them to be witnesses “of the beauty of human love”. Zenit News reports:

    The event in Madrid was organized by the archdiocese with the support of ecclesial movements as well as pro-life and pro-family organizations.

    Addressing the participants in Spanish, the Holy Father said: “I invite all Christian families to experience the loving presence of the Lord in their lives. I encourage them, inspired by love of Christ for all mankind, to give witness before the world of the beauty of human love, marriage and family.

    “This, founded in the indissoluble union between a man and a woman, constitutes the privileged environment in which human life is welcomed and protected, from its beginning until its natural end.”

    The Pontiff underlined the “right and fundamental obligation” of parents “to educate their children, in the faith and in the values that dignify human existence.”

    “It is worth it to work for the family and marriage,” continued Benedict XVI, “because it is worth it to work for the human being, the most valuable being created by God.”

  • 01/04/08 – Pope Benedict visited with nuns at the Missionaries of Charity in Rome, commending them on their work and the witness of their founder:

    “For many years, when I was prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, I would spend several hours of the day near your praiseworthy institution, desired by my venerable predecessor, the Servant of God John Paul II, and entrusted by him to Blessed Teresa of Calcutta,” Benedict XVI said. “Thus, I was able to appreciate the generous service of Gospel charity which the Missionaries of Charity have been carrying out for almost 20 years now with the help and collaboration of many people of good will.”

    The Holy Father reflected on Blessed Teresa’s desire to call the house Gift of Mary, “hoping, as it were, that it might always be possible to experience in it the love of the Blessed Virgin.”

    “For anyone who knocks at the door, it is in fact a gift of Mary to feel welcomed by the loving arms of the sisters and volunteers,” he said. “The presence of those who are ready to listen to people in difficulty and serve them with that very attitude which impelled Mary to go straightaway to St. Elizabeth is another gift of Mary.

    “May this style of Gospel love always seal and distinguish your vocation so that, in addition to material aid, you may communicate to all whom you meet daily on your path that same passion for Christ and that shining ‘smile of God’ which enlivened Mother Teresa’s life.”

  • 01/07/08 – During his address to ambassadors to the Holy See, Benedict emphasized the need for security and protection from purveyors of weapons of mass destruction:

    . . . I wish to urge the international community to make a global commitment on security. A joint effort on the part of States to implement all the obligations undertaken and to prevent terrorists from gaining access to weapons of mass destruction would undoubtedly strengthen the nuclear non-proliferation regime and make it more effective. I welcome the agreement reached on the dismantling of North Korea’s nuclear weapons programme, and I encourage the adoption of suitable measures for the reduction of conventional weapons and for dealing with the humanitarian problems caused by cluster munitions.

    Taking note of the current crisis with Iran’s nuclear program, Benedict urged “for continued and uninterrupted pursuit of the path of diplomacy in order to resolve the issue of Iran’s nuclear programme, by negotiating in good faith, adopting measures designed to increase transparency and mutual trust, and always taking account of the authentic needs of peoples and the common good of the human family.”

  • 01/09/08 – Pope Benedict devoted his January 9th general audience on the life of “the greatest Father of the Latin Church”: St. Augustine of Hippo:

    This man of passion and faith, of the highest intelligence and tireless in his pastoral care, a great Saint and Doctor of the Church is often known, at least by hearsay, even by those who ignore Christianity or who are not familiar with it, because he left a very deep mark on the cultural life of the West and on the whole world. Because of his special importance St Augustine’s influence was widespread. It could be said on the one hand that all the roads of Latin Christian literature led to Hippo (today Annaba, on the coast of Algeria), the place where he was Bishop from 395 to his death in 430, and, on the other, that from this city of Roman Africa, many other roads of later Christianity and of Western culture itself branched out.

    A civilization has seldom encountered such a great spirit who was able to assimilate Christianity’s values and exalt its intrinsic wealth, inventing ideas and forms that were to nourish the future generations, as Paul VI also stressed: “It may be said that all the thought-currents of the past meet in his works and form the source which provides the whole doctrinal tradition of succeeding ages.”

  • 01/14/08 – Pope Benedict gave public witness to his teachings on the liturgy when he celebrated mass ad orientem – Catholic News Agency reports:

    Vatican City, Jan 15, 2008 / 04:22 am (CNA).- Pope Benedict XVI celebrated Mass on Sunday in the Sistine Chapel, using the church’s original altar beneath Michelangelo’s depiction of the Last Judgment instead of the removable altar used by Pope John Paul II.

    The Vatican’s office for liturgical celebrations issued a statement saying the decision to use the old altar was used to respect “the beauty and the harmony of this architectural jewel.”

    Using the old altar meant that Pope Benedict occasionally celebrated the liturgy with his back to the people, a posture called “ad orientem” or “towards the east” in the traditional phrasing. It was the first time Mass had been celebrated in the Chapel in such a way since the Second Vatican Council, which took place between 1962 and 1965.

    The choice echoes part of the Pope’s reintroduction of traditional liturgical practices, some of which were phased out by the Second Vatican Council.

    Shawn Tribe @ The New Liturgical Movement offers photographs and commentary on this momentous event:

    The liturgy celebrated is that of the Baptism of the Lord. Baptism, of course, is the beginning of new life and the initiation into Christian life and perhaps in a fitting bit of symbolism, the Pope has sent forth a clear message, a re-baptism if you will of the place of common sacred, liturgical direction in the life of the church.

    While the Council itself never abolished this ancient liturgical practice of the Christian East and West, and while liturgical law has always allowed this, as I have said before, the example — and particularly the public example — of the Pope does matter for Catholics. This is a teaching moment and it can be reasonably expected that this will send a clear message that ad orientem is conciliar and has a central, normal place in the liturgical life of the Church.

    As Rich Leonardi remarked, a case of “Do as I say and I do”.

    Turning to the thought of the Holy Father himself on this matter, from chapter 3 of The Spirit of the Liturgy, here is then-Cardinal Ratzinger on “The Altar and the Direction of Liturgical Prayer”; and Pope Benedict’s Foreword to U.M. Lang’s Turning Towards the Lord: Orientation in Liturgical Prayer.



  • Fr. James V. Schall on Pope Benedict and the Defense of Reason – Interview with Ken Masugi for the Claremont Review of Books December 13, 2007. This interview covers the relationship between reason and faith and its political implications. It explores the themes of the Pope’s recent encyclical on hope (Spe Salvi) and Fr. Schall’s most recent books.
  • “Jesus of Nazareth” Gets a Special Reviewer: The Vicar of the Man Who Wrote It, by Sandro Magister. http://www.Chiesa December 14, 2007. How cardinal Camillo Ruini explained to the priests of Rome the book by Joseph Ratzinger-Benedict XVI. Including its political applications, which are never sacred and definitive, but always must be “re-elaborated, reformulated, and corrected.”
  • 07/07/07: the Church changed forever, by by Damian Thompson. The Telegraph December 26, 2007:

    There is only one candidate for my religious highlight of 2007: that glorious day in July when Pope Benedict XVI healed a disastrous rift in the history of the Western Church by restoring the ancient Latin Mass to its full dignity.

  • The Ratzinger Revolution continues — in November, the Telegraph announced that the Pope was intending on “purging” the Vatican of modern music:

    The Pope is considering a dramatic overhaul of the Vatican in order to force a return to traditional sacred music.

    After reintroducing the Latin Tridentine Mass, the Pope wants to widen the use of Gregorian chant and baroque sacred music.

    In an address to the bishops and priests of St Peter’s Basilica, he said that there needed to be “continuity with tradition” in their prayers and music.

    He referred pointedly to “the time of St Gregory the Great”, the pope who gave his name to Gregorian chant.

    Gregorian chant has been reinstituted as the primary form of singing by the new choir director of St Peter’s, Father Pierre Paul.

    Related reading: Cardinal Ratzinger on Liturgical Music, by Michael J. Miller. Homiletic & Pastoral Review July 2000; “Music and the Liturgy” excerpt from Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger’s The Spirit of the Liturgy.

  • Pope gets radical and woos the Anglicans, by Damian Thompson. Telegraph November 15, 2007:

    The 80-year-old Pontiff is planning a purification of the Roman liturgy in which decades of trendy innovations will be swept away. This recovery of the sacred is intended to draw Catholics closer to the Orthodox and ultimately to heal the 1,000 year Great Schism. But it is also designed to attract vast numbers of conservative Anglicans, who will be offered the protection of the Holy Father if they covert en masse.

    The liberal cardinals don’t like the sound of it at all. . . .

    After discussing the devious tactics some bishops have used in their attmepts to frustrate Benedict XVI’s “reform of the reform,” Thompson relays this bit of news:

    Last month, the bishops of the Traditional Anglican Communion, a network of 400,000 breakaway Anglo-Catholics based mainly in America and the Commonwealth, wrote to Rome asking for “full, corporate, sacramental union”.

    Their letter was drafted with the help of the Vatican. Benedict is overseeing the negotiations. Unlike John Paul II, he admires the Anglo-Catholic tradition. He is thinking of making special pastoral arrangements for Anglican converts walking away from the car wreck of the Anglican Communion.

    This would mean that they could worship together, free from bullying by local bishops who dislike the newcomers’ conservatism and would rather “dialogue” with Anglicans than receive them into the Church.

On a Lighter Note

Special thanks to The Pope Benedict Forum for keeping up with the news of the Holy Father (and for the engaging discussions); and to Thomas Peters (American Papist), Teresa Polk (Blog By The Sea) and Gerald Augustinus (The Cafeteria is Closed) for their devotion to “papal blogging.”

… It is not until much later — when her twelve year old son remains behind in the temple, to be found after an agony of seeking — that the divine ‘otherness’ of that which stands at the center of her existence is revealed. (Luke: 2:41-50). To the certainty understandable reproach: “Son, why has thou done so to us? Behold, in sorrow thy father and I have been seeking thee,” the boy replies: “How is it that you sought me? Did you not know that I must be about my Father’s business?” In that hour Mary must have begun to comprehend Simeon’s prophecy: “And thy own soul a sword shall pierce” (Luke 2:35). For what but the sword of God can it mean when a child in such a moment answers a disturbed mother with an amazed: “How is it that you sought me?” We are not suprised to read further down the page: “And they did not understand a word that he spoke to them.” Then directly: “And his mother kept all these things carefully in her heart.” Not understanding, she buries the words like precious seed within her. The incident is typical: the mother’s vision unequal to that of her son, but her heart, like chosen ground, is deep enough to sustain the highest tree.

Excerpt from “The Mother” – The Lord, by Romano Guardini.

Two Jesuits.

218 Jesuits will gather in Rome this week to convene the 35th General Congregation, where they will elect a successor to Father Peter-Hans Kolvenbach ( Jesuits to vote for ‘Black Pope’, by Malcom Moore. The Telegraph 1/8/08).

In a column for the National Catholic Reporter, Father John Dear expresses mixed feelings about the Jesuits and the future of the religious order:

NCR asked me to reflect on this Jesuit gathering, but I have such mixed feelings about the Jesuits (not to mention the church), that I can only beg prayers for my order. We’re a complicated bunch. This past spring, the National Jesuit News, a U.S. newspaper reporting on the Society of Jesus, featured a glowing profile of a Jesuit priest (“Army Chaplain Sees Job as Forming People of Peace,” April, 2007) who served as a chaplain in, of all places, Abu Graib, Iraq — not to minister to the tortured, but to the torturers. Happily, he has left Iraq. Alas, he now teaches the morality of war at West Point (where, incidentally, the police have banned me for life.)

This report was shocking and scandalous to me and my Jesuit friends. I don’t understand how we claim to follow the nonviolent Jesus yet support someone who works in a torture center, or an international war headquarters. Unfortunately, given our history of violence, it’s not surprising.

Here is an excerpt from the article that infuriated Father Dear so (Army chaplain sees job as forming ‘people of peace’, by Peter Feuerherd. Long Island Catholic Vol. 45, No. 52. March 21, 2007):

In Baghdad there were few Catholic priests, so Father [Timothy] Valentine was often on call, sent to various locations around the city. One such place was Abu Ghraib, the notorious prison that was a torture chamber for political prisoners under Saddam Hussein and was also the site of shameful abuses by some American soldiers during the early part of the war.

Father Valentine notes that the situation at the prison had greatly improved when he got there. It is what he describes as one of the “untold success stories” of the war.

“I feel very strongly that our soldiers did a noble job” in Iraq, he says, citing Army engineers who successfully put in electricity and running water in some areas for the first time. He was able to observe a military training team, composed largely of Catholics, who were instrumental in teaching police, soldiers and legal officials of the new Iraqi government key concepts about human rights and due process.

“They did a wonderful job. They were affecting a whole culture. These soldiers and officers were great. And they came to church, by the way,” he says.

Now back at West Point, he serves at the Catholic chapel there while teaching. . . .

He believes it is imperative for the church to maintain a presence in the military, providing spiritual guidance to the people charged with carrying out national policy.

“They need spiritual care,” he says. “They have their fingers on enormous power. Service to them will redound to the peace and security of our nation.” Ultimately, he says, “we want people of peace to execute the orders of the president.”

George Weigel’s "Faith, Reason & The War against Jihadism" (Part 1)

Weigel begins Faith, Reason and the War Against Jihadism with the basic observation that the overwhelming majority of humanity receives the narrative for life from religious convictions, and for whom religion constitutes a (or, rather, the) dynamic force. To put it another way (borrowing a familiar phrase from American conservatism:) “ideas have consequences.” Failure to understand this, warns Weigel, is to commit a kind of “conceptual self-sabotage.”

Criticizing the notion of “the inevitable progress of history” which holds many in its sway (“a hypothetical, not a given”), Weigel intends this book as a wake-up call, a reminder that the very future of the West rests not upon material or technological wealth but “whether our spiritual aspirations are noble or base.” He sets out “to identify what we should have learned, since September 11, 2001: about our enemy, about us — and about what must be done to see us through to a future safe for freedom.” Writign for a popular audience, he offers 15 brief lessons categorized in three sections: ‘Understanding the Enemy’, ‘Rethinking Realism’ and ‘Deserving Victory.’

I’m going to divide my post into two parts — I’ll begin by presenting Weigel’s diagnosis of the problem (understanding of “the Enemy”), and offering my impressions; in a later post I plan to review the 2nd and 3rd parts (essentially Weigel’s prescription in the form of recommmendations for foreign policy). Read More

“Understanding the Enemy”

Weigel challenges the facile equasion of Christianity, Judaism and Islam as “people of the Book” or “the three Abrahamic faiths.” To do so, he contends, obscures the very different characterization and roles assigned to Moses and Jesus in Islamic theology, not to mention the unique nature of Muslim’s reverence for the Qur’an.

The focal point of this differentiation is Islamic theological supersessionism: Islam’s conviction of itself as the final revelation and a necessary corrective to Judaism and Christianity in such a way that, while “no orthodox Christian holds that God’s self-revelation in Christ negates God’s self-revelation in the history of the People of Israel,” Islam, by contrast, “trumps . . . any prior revelatory value that might be found in the Hebrew bible or the New Testament.” [p. 20-21].

Consequentially, Islam has built into its theology a “dynamic of conflict” with Judaism and Christianity. However, while the history of Islamic-Christian relations has been one of “almost continuous conflict”, Weigel does not think this inevitable (“it should not be thought that Islamic supersessionism necessarily requires violent conflict”). [p. 21]

Another common mistake, according to Weigel, is believing Islam’s understanding of the Qur’an as analogous to our understanding of the Christian scriptures:

The Christian theological understanding of biblical “inspiration” — which would not be foreign to Judaism — provides for the possibility of interpretation of the sacred texts [and] the development of doctrine . . . the Qur’an by contrast is understood to be dictated, word for word and syllable for syllable, so there is no question of “exegesis” . . . nor is there any possibility of a postscriptural development of doctrine. The priority on Islam is on jurisprudence, the debate of experts in Islamic law on the applicability of texts to circumstances.” [p. 26]

Weigel cites as an example the question of women veiling themselves — the passages in the Qur’an and the Christian scriptures (I Corinthians 11:3-26) are similar in content, but understood in radically different fashions. Paul’s advice (that women be decently dressed) was interpreted contextually and adapted to the times. By contrast, the directive to veil one’s self in the Qur’an comes literally “from God” and cannot be abrogated. There is no dispute — only the question of to what manner this order is to be carried out (precise measurements and what garments to be used).

Another important distinction between Muslims and Christians is the Islamic conception of God, and its consequences for each tradition’s “theological anthropology.” Weigel turns to the French historian Alain Bensacon (“What Kind of Religion is Islam” Commentary May 2004), who observes that:

The one God of the Qur’an, the God who demands submission, is a distant God; to call him “Father” would be an anthropomorphic sacrilege. The Muslim God is utterly impassive; to ascribe loving feeling to Him would be suspect. [pp. 27-28]

In Christian theology we perceive an analogy between God and humanity: men and women are bound to God by speech and argument; in Genesis, Adam names the animals, thereby participating in the divine work of the Creator. To act rationally is to reflect the Father (Here one is reminded of Benedict’s citation of Manuel II in his Regensburg Address: “Not to act reasonably, not to act with logos, is contrary to the nature of God”). According to Weigel, such a conception is not to be found in the world of Islam, whose anthropology is governed instead by “submission to the majesy of God, who neither begets nor is begotten.”

What are the consequences of this differentation in conceptions?

“If God is not “Father,” it is difficult to imagine the human person as been made “in the image of God.” And that, in turn, puts great strain on any idea of intimacy between faith and reason [in the human-divine relationship].” [p. 30]

Christianity and Islam also differ greatly in their understanding of the just society, the latter characterized by the fusion of temporal and spiritual authority. According to Bernard Lewis, “The Islamic state [is] the only truly legitimate power on earth and the Islamic community the sole repository of truth” — the world thus divided between “The House of Islam” (Dar al-Islam) and “The House of War” (Dar al-harb — composed of those who have not yet submitted to Islam and his Prophet). Suffice to say this presents a great impediment in creating the cultural conditions for social pluralism between ethnic or religious groups. [p. 31] Considering this impoverishment, Weigel asks:

. . . Christianity’s convictions about the rationality built into the world by the world’s creator were one important source of “modernity,” if by that term we mean the scientific method, historical-critical study, [and] goverment by the arts of persuasion, . . . are there in Islam’s theological self-understanding, themes analogous to Christianity’s theologically driven convictions about the rationality of the world, themes that could, over time, make Islam’s encounter with modernity more fruitful for both Islam and the modern world? [p. 34]

For Weigel, “whether Islam can evolve into a religion capable of providing religious warrants for genuine pluralism” is one of the great questions of our age.

Whom, or what, are we fighting?

Weigel moves on to a proper identification of the enemy with which we are engaged: jihadism – best distinguished from other forms of Islamism by its messianic political aspirations, demanding nothing less than a global Islamic state. Weigel quotes Fr. Neuhaus:

“Jihadism is the religiously inspired ideology [which teaches] that it is the moral obligation of all Muslims to employ whatever means necessary to compel the world’s submission to Islam.”

To understand jihadism and what motivates these terrorists, one must grasp its intellectual history. Weigel locates this in the writings of several prominent Muslim figures:

  • Taqi ad-Din Ahmad ibn Taymiyyah (1263-1328) – who taught that political power was essential for Islam’s survival and the establishment of peace and justice is predicated on Islam’s victory worldwide; also, for broadening the targets of jihad to include — through takfir or excommunication — fellow Muslims deemed to be heretical and apostate opponents of jihad. According to Taymiyyah: “any group of people that rebels against any single prescript of the clear and reliably transmitted prescripts of Islam has to be fought… even if members of this group publicly make a formal confession of the Islamic faith” (See: “The Preacher and the Jihadi”, by Steven Brooke. Current Trends in Islamist Ideology Vol. 3
  • Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab (1703/4-1792) – from whom the term Wahhabism is derived, which influenced the Taliban in Afghanistan and has become the formal religion of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (and via Saudi funding, propagated in madrassas throughout the world).

    Wahab emphasized the radical unicity (oneness) and lordship of God, the absolute lawgiver, and in relation to whom there is only submission:

    True submission, according to Wahhab, requires both a profound disdain for Islamic mysticism and the destruction of any human artifacts that are thought to embody or express divine attributes.

    See also: Stephen Schwartz on Islam and Wahhabism Q&A with Kathryn Jean Lopez. National Review November 2002).

  • Hasan al Banna (1906-1949), Egyptian founder of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, operating under the slogan “God is our purpose, the Prophet our leader, the Qur’an our constitution. Jihad our way and dying for God’s cause our supreme objective.” According to Weigel, Hassan condemned the “mental colonization” of Islam under colonial rule and urged a wholesale Islamic social reformation, in which the educational, social, economic, religious and charitable activities of the Muslim Brotherhood would be wedded to the sword of Jihad, cleansing the owrld of infidels and unbelievers.
  • Sayyid Qutb (1903-1966), a leading intellectual in the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood. Qutb believed that “the index of whether a state was truly Muslim was the degree to which sharia law prevailed,” and stressed that those Muslims who failed to live an authentic Muslim life constituted a threat to Islam alongside Jews, Christians and unbelievers.

    Sayiid Qutb’s writings were promoted by his brother Mohammad, a professor of Islamic studies in Saudi Arabia. One of his students, Ayman Zawahiri, would become a mentor to Osama bin Laden and a leading figure in Al Qaeda. (For more on Qutbe, see Paul Berman’s “The Philosopher of Islamic Terror” New York Times Magazine, March 23, 2003.)

What is important, says Weigel, is to read history and politics “through the prism of jihadist theological convictions.” The “generally feckless” response by the United States to attacks on U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998 and the bombing of the U.S.S. Cole in 2000 spurred Bin Laden to new heights of hostility. According to Reza Aslan:

The attacks of 9/11, for example, were by Bin Laden’s own admission specifically designed to goad the United States into exaggerated retaliation against the Islamic world so as to galvanize other Muslims to join the jihadist cause. The idea was to mobilize the Muslim world to choose sides in an internal battle over the future of Islam by framing the inevitable U.S. response to 9/11 as a war not against terrorism but against Islam itself.

Economic resentment, the United States’ relationship with Israel, and the presence of U.S. troops abroad are peripheral to jihadist ambitions: namely, the overthrow of the West and the consequent subjugation of all humanity under Islam:

As Pope Benedict pointed out in [the Regensburg Address], the key theological move that underwrites today’s jihadist ideology (and practice) is the identification by jihadists of God as Absolute Will. If that is what jihadists believe God to be (irrespective of the degree of warrant that concept can find in classical Islam, which is disputed), then jihadists are, within their own frame of reference, justified in belieivng that God can command anything — even the irrational. And so, in extension of the thought of Sayyid Qutb, contemporary jihadists believe that murder of innocents is not only morally acceptable, but morally required, if such murders advance the cause of Islam. Thus the origins of one of today’s most lethal weapons: the so-called “suicide bomber” . . . [p. 48]

The line of Islamic thought from Tammiya and Wahhab that would later influence Hasan al-Banna and Sayyid Qutbe was one in which several struggles were being played out: Islam vs. modernity; jihadists vs. other Islamic reformers,; Islam versus the rest. That line of thought came to one terminus when Ayman al-Zawahiri and Osama bin Laden – an Egyptian and a Saudi . . . joined focus to form al-Qaeda. [p. 50]

The consequence of this union was global jihad. Far from crazy, Islamic jihadists from the perspective of their own defective theology make “a terrible kind of sense.”

Dialogue and Islamic Renewal

In Chapter 6, Weigel turns his attention to Islamic-Christian dialogue — he mentions Benedict’s 2006 Regensburg Address, and the first “Open Letter” of 38 prominent Islamic leaders in response. The imperative of future dialogues, says Weigel, should be to “address Islam’s ability assimilate, in a critical way, the achievements of the Enlightennment – a question which Christianity has been wrestling with for centuries.” The skepticism and relativism that are characteristic of one aspect of Enlightenment thought need not deter Muslims from engaging that which is positive:

… [exploring] the possibility of an Islamic case for religious tolerance, social pluralism and civil society — even as Islam’s interlocutor’s (among Christians, Jews and others, including nonbelievers) open themselves to the possibility that the Islamic critique of certain aspects of modern culture is not without merit. [pp. 63-64]

While some have recommended an “Islamic Luther” as a panacea for Muslim ills, Weigel envisions someone along the lines of Leo XIII: “… toward the possibility of a religious leader who reaches back into the deeper philosophical resources of his tradition in order to broker a critical agreement with Enlightenment political thought, and to shape his tradition’s encounter with the economic and political institutions of modernity.” As Leo’s retrieval of authentic Thomistic philosophy led to a development of social doctrine in the Catholic Church and eventually to Vatican II’s historic Declaration on Religious Freedom and the disentanglement of sacerdotium from regnum, Weigel hopes that Muslims could accomplish a similar

process of retrieval and development, as distinct from rupture and revolution . . . such an approach, emphasizing the capacity of reason to get at the truth of things, also holds out the possibility of interreligious dialogue.

Weigel does caution that non-Muslims can play no significant role in this process; that it must be resolved internally, “in term of Islamic premises.”

At the same time, non-Muslims can shape the contours of this struggle — first, by refraining from dialoguing Muslim religious leaders who do not first publicly denounce jihadism and terrorism (anti-semites and Holocaust deniers need not apply); secondly, by working with those who are “reviving the tradition of reason with Islam” — specifically, defending reason against the dual threat of “jihadists and postmodernists who deny the human capacity to know the truth of anything with certainty.” Weigel envisions building a cross-cultural grammer of natural law, the recognition of moral truths built into the world and human nature which can be grasped by reflection. In such a way we could have “the first building blocks of a philosophical foundation on which to construct together free and just societies that respect religious conviction.”

Weigel closes out the first part of his book with a reminder to his readers that this present war is likely to span “at least 2-3 generations” — birth rates in Islamic countries are actually diminishing, creating a brief “window of opportunity” for jihadists to accomplish their goals. Nonetheless, while still a minority among Muslims, jihadists “can count on a substantial periphery of sympathizers, more than sufficient to sustain long campaigns of terrorism” (Weigel, citing Walter Laqueur p. 72.)

In his interview with Hugh Hewitt, Weigel expresses his frustration with the United States for losing site of the broader context of this war — as he put it, this war is being fought on multiple fronts — in Afghanistan, Somalia, Gaza, Pakistan, North Africa/Maghreb, Sudan and Southeast Asia. There are many facets to the conflict: intelligence, financial-flows, economics, energy, and homeland security.

Al-Qaeda attacks on the United States and on American diplomatic assets were, for example, planned in the Phillipines and other parts of Southeast Asia. Places unknown to the vast majority of Americans are now among the most evil places on earth . . . what happens in locales previously unknown save in the most recondite geography bees — North Waziristan — has direct effects on our armed forces in Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere. What is being plotted in such places could have devastating effects on the homeland.

It’s high time that we recognize this threat, that we take it seriously, and that our public leaders, as well as American voters, — as Weigel put it — “are not afraid to use the ‘J’ word.” It is not “Islamophobic” to note the historical connection between conquest and Muslim expansion, or between contemporary jihadism and terrorism.

* * *

Impressions of Part I: “Understanding the Enemy”

I admit that when I first heard about Weigel’s book I was curious whether he would take an approach akin to Robert Spencer ( His website serves a useful purpose in its daily reports on the activities of jihadists, but goes too far in its fiery rhetoric, tarring Muslims as a whole with sweeping denunciations (“to take the violence out of Islam would require it to jettison two things: the Quran as the word of Allah and Muhammad as Allah’s prophet . . . to pacify Islam would require its transformation into something that it is not”). A reader immersing himself soley in Spencer’s work might arrive at the conclusion that Islam was nothing more than a violent political ideology and the only authentic Muslim, true to the dictates of his religion, is the radical jihadist engaged in violent struggle against the West. Consider Jihadwatch’s response to the question: “If Islam is violent, why are so many Muslims peaceful?”:

This question is a bit like asking, “If Christianity teaches humility, tolerance, and forgiveness, why are so many Christians arrogant, intolerant, and vindictive?” The answer in both cases is obvious: in any religion or ideology there will be many who profess, but do not practice, its tenets. Just as it is often easier for a Christian to hit back, play holier-than-thou, or disdain others, so it is often easier for a Muslim to stay at home rather than embark on jihad. Hypocrites are everywhere.

Furthermore, there are also people who do not really understand their own faith and so act outside of its prescribed boundaries. In Islam, there are likely many Muslims who do not really understand their religion

As Dinesh Disouza remarked, such critics — when following their charge to their ultimate conclusions — let Bin Laden define Islam. Indeed, the only acceptable Muslim in this perspective would be one who has renounced his faith altogether.

By contrast, Weigel takes care to distinguish jihadism or Islamism from Islam as a religious tradition. For example, it is notable that in his numerous references to Pope Benedict’s Regensburg Address, he understands it as a critique of jihadism, as opposed to general Islam (Muslim readers should take note of this).

With over a billion Muslims in the world today, an estimated 5-7 million in the U.S. alone and 10-20,000 serving in our own armed forces, I believe it is important not to adopt the erroneous position of “guilty until proven innocent,” regarding everybody in a hijab or carrying a Qur’an as a suspected terrorist. So it comes as a relief to see Weigel taking a less hyperbolic approach to this issue as those who have, post 9/11, made something of a career in racheting up the polemics against Islam.

Fr. Samir Khalil put it best:

The truth is that Islamic terrorism is caused by Islamism that is by a certain reading of the Koran and Sunnah, which has spread throughout the most famous Islamic schools and universities such as Cairo’s Al-Azhar. Islamic terrorism is caused by Salafism, that is a blind adherence to the tradition of the ancients, of those who went before us (salaf), a literal and immoveable reading, without life, without soul. This with regards to the Sunni world.

In the Shiite world, the Khomeini theory of the “wilâyat al-faqîh” – according to which the ideal state is that which is governed by the most gifted faqîh, a shariah specialist – opened the door to the all forms of extremism, in the name of shariah, by deciding the daily life of the people and of society.

It is important not to confuse Islam with Islamism, but it is just as important to urge Muslims to reject Islamism as an alteration of authentic Islam and to counter this violent and invasive tendency.

While I am in full agreement with the essential thrust of Weigel’s book (awaking the world to the reality of the Islamist threat), I do have some concerns about his treatment of Islam:

“The Muslim God”

In conveying the “Islamic conception of God,” Weigel appears largely reliant on the Commentary article by French historian Alain Bensacon. I have to wonder: how many Muslims would characterize their own perception and experience of God in such cold, stark terminology: “distant . . . utterly impassive . . . demanding submission”? — It may be true that Islam is chiefly characterized by its insistence on God as Absolute, but this is not to say that the Islamic tradition is wholly devoid of love. See, for instance, God and Love, by Dr. Ahmad Shafaat, who disputes the charge; or for more in-depth reading, Perspectives on the Concept of Love in Islam, by Mahnaz Heydarpoor. One would also have to take into account sufism, the mystical dimension of Islam, whose adherents strive to empty themselves of the false self and thereby become a “receptacle for God’s love.”

Dar al Islam vs. Dar al Harb — applicable or outdated?

In terms of the separation of the world into the “House of Islam” Dar al-Islam and the “House of War” Dar al-harb, Weigel neglects to point out that this distinction tends to vary and is generally regarded as a matter of ijtihad (independent judgment) by Muslim scholars, given as there is no mention of this concept in the Qur’an or the Sunnah.

Jihadists are quick to identify the non-Muslim world as dar al-Harb (in a state of belligerency against Islam, consequuently making militant jihad incumbent on Muslims). However, other Muslims opt for a more expansive understanding, such as the following from Sheikh `Atiya Saqr, former head of Al-Azhar Fatwa Committee:

Muslim scholars maintain that the labeling of a country or place as being an Islamic country or a non-Islamic one Dar al-Harb revolves around the question of religious security. This means that if a Muslim practices Islam freely in his place of abode despite that the place happens to be secular or un-Islamic, then he will be considered as living in a Dar Islam, meaning that he is not obliged to immigrate from that place.

Curiously, as Dr Zafarul-Islam Khan writes, Muslims may even find themselves more free in non-Muslim countries:

It is evident today that in many ‘Muslim’ countries Muslims’ lives, honour and right to follow Islam are not safe while there are ‘non-Muslim’ countries, like our own country, where Muslims’ lives and properties are safe legally. Moreover, we enjoy legal rights to follow our religion and preach it. Therefore, it is a mistake to apply the old concept of dar al-Islam and dar al-harb on the contemporary world.

(“Are the terms of Dar al-Islam and Dar al-Harb still applicable?” Milli Gazette July 15, 2000).

The Muslim philosopher Tariq Ramadan discusses these concepts in his book Western Muslims and the Future of Islam, rejecting the binary confinement of an “us vs. them” mentality. “We are living in an age of diversity, blending and extremly deep complexity that cannot be understood or evaluated through a binary prism, which is as much simplistic as reductionist. . . . It is becoming necessary today to go back to the Qu’ran and the Sunna and, in lgiht of our environment, to deepend our analysis in order to develop a new vision appropriate to our new context in order to formulate suitable legal opinions.” Ramadan proposes instead the world of testimony: “in the sense of undertaking an essential duty and demanding responsibility — to contribute wherever they can to promoting goodness and justice in and through human fraternity.”

Muslim vs. Christian Approaches to Scripture

Also, one can only go so far with emphasizing the differences in Christian and Islamic approaches to their scriptures or the assertion that, because Muslims believe in the divine authorship of the Qur’an, the possibilities for exegesis and dialogue with others is limited. For example, shortly after the publication of a second letter by 138 Muslim scholars, Cardinal Tauran asserted that “Muslims do not accept the possibility of discussing the Qur’an, because it is written, they say, as dictated by God” — this was construed as an attempt to silence the dialogue, and promptly and directly challenged by Muslim scholar Aref Ali Nayed in a lengthy interview with Catholic News Service’s Cindy Wooden:

The Qur’an is eternal (qadim) in essence, origin, and as essential divine discourse competence (kalamullah as kalam nafsi). It is, however, also historical in its unfolding, as revelatory performance (kalamullah as kalam lafzi), and was revealed to the Prophet (peace be upon him) in intimate engagement with the historical and living circumstances and events of the Muslim community (tanzil and tanjim).

Muslim scholars have always based their interpretations and exegeses of the Qur’an on the bases of several historical and philological sciences, including the science of the ‘circumstances of revelation’ (asbabulnuzul), the science of the history of the Qur’an (tarikhulqur’an), and the sciences that carefully study the linguistic modes familiar to the Arabs around the time of revelation (ulumulugha). Muslim scholars developed a comprehensive apparatus of historical-critical-linguistic methodologies for understanding the Qur’an (ulumulqur’an).

Muslim scholars were always aware of the fact that the activities of interpretation, understanding, and exegesis (of God’s eternal discourse) are forms of human strenuous striving (ijtihad) that must be dutifully renewed in every believing generation. Solemn belief in the eternity and divine authorship of the Qur’an never prevented Muslim scholars from dealing with it historically and linguistically. On the contrary, belief in the revelatory truth of the Qur’an was the very motivation for spending life-times in close scholarly study of God’s discourse.

So belief in the divine source of the Qur’an may not necessarily be an impediment to Muslim dialogue.

* * *

All this is not to deny the very real theological differences between Islam and Christianity or the challenges Islam must face in its reconciliation with the Enlightenment — first and foremost, as Weigel asserts, is coming to terms with pluralism and articulating an Islamic case for religious freedom — together (I would add) with a prohibition of the death sentence for Muslims who commit apostasy in Islam. (Arguing on the basis of the Qur’an and within Muslim tradition, Dr. Jamal A. Badawi makes a case for such in Is Apostasy a Capital Crime in Islam? Apr. 26, 2006).

Finally, when Weigel talks about revival of Islam in terms of “retrieval and development” of Islamic tradition as opposed to “reform and revolution”, I’d be curious to what extent he has explored traditional Islamic reponses to jihadism? — I had discussed this aspect of the debate in a previous post, reviewing the book in which traditional Muslim authors offer a critique of jihadism from within their tradition. Weigel would likely be interested in the contributions from David Dadake (“The Myth of a Militant Islam“) and Reza Shah-Kazemi Recollecting the Spirit of Jihad.

Also of interest is Shaykh Mohammad Afifi al-Akiti’s “Defending the Transgressed by Censuring the Reckless against the Killing of Civilians” – which disputes the fatwa of a jihadist organization defending suicide-bombings and the proposition that “attacks such as the September 11th Hijackings is a viable option in Jihad” — the latter gives one a sense of how jihadism might be condemned from the perspective of Islamic military ethics.

In many ways, Bin Laden’s struggle against the West is also a struggle for the heart of Islam itself. As James Turner Johnson noted (“Jihad and Just War” (First Things June-July 2002):

“Bin Laden’s jihad not only pits Islam against America, the West as a whole and ultimately the rest of the non-Islamic world; it also seeks to overthrow the contemporary Muslim states and mainstream views of Islamic tradition among the great majority of contemporary Muslims.”

It would be helpful, then, to more closely monitor and encourage traditional Muslim responses to the jihadism / Islamicism. (My sense is that Weigel was constrained by his intent on writing a popular, not particularly academic, work).

* * *

While expressing qualified praise for the initial “Open Letter to Pope Benedict XVI” from 38 Muslim scholars and leaders, he went on to convey his disapproval of another call for theological dialogue by the same parties, entitled “A Common Word Between Us & You”. In his column “A Disappointing Call for Dialogue” (“The Catholic Difference”, November 15, 2007), Weigel questioned:

Do these 138 Muslims agree or disagree that religious freedom and the distinction between religious and political authority are the issues at the heart of today’s tensions between Islam and the West — indeed, Islam and the rest? Would it not be more useful to concentrate on these urgent issues of practical reason (which bear on the organization of 21st century societies) than to frame the dialogue in terms of a generic exploration of the two Great Commandments (which risks leading to an exchange of banalities)? Why not get down to cases?

It is of the utmost importance for the human future that a genuine interreligious dialogue unfold between Islam and Christianity (and Judaism, which is largely ignored in “A Common Word”). Genuine dialogue requires a precise focus, and a commitment by the dialogue partners to condemn by name those members of their communities who murder in the name of God. It is unfortunate that “A Common Word” took us no closer to cementing either of these building blocks of genuine dialogue into place.

While I am sympathetic to Weigel’s concerns, I am a little more hopeful in the letter’s potential to help Muslims and Christians find common ground and engage each other. Since it’s publication, the 138 signatories has grown to 216. The letter has moreover received a number of positive responses within the ecclesial Catholic hierarchy, (including, coincidentally, Cardinal Pell, to whom Weigel dedicates this book).

In December, Pope Benedict XVI responded to the letter by inviting some Muslim delegates to meet with the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue for further discussion (Video Coverage). And inasmuch as Benedict has made reciprocity and religious freedom integral to the Christian-Islamic dialogue, I cannot see the dialogue proceeding without a discussion of these issues.

We will see what the future holds and if Muslims can rise to the challenge Weigel (and Benedict) have placed before them.

Next “Rethinking Realism” and “Deserving Victory” – Weigel’s policy prescriptions for the United States and the West.

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Against The Grain – 2007 Highlights

Well, that’s a wrap . . . of 2007. From the archives, a look back with a highlight from each month of blogging (As you can see, some familiar and reoccuring themes to this year):

To my readers (and critics) — Happy New Year, thanks for gracing this blog with your eyes and I hope to make your acquaintance in the combox in the future.

Oh, and if you enjoy this blog and wish to show your appreciation in a concrete way:

  1. Consider a donation to “Peter’s Pence”:

    “the most characteristic expression of the participation of all the faithful in the Bishop of Rome’s charitable initiatives in favour of the universal Church. The gesture has not only a practical value, but also a strong symbolic one, as a sign of communion with the Pope and attention to the needs of one’s brothers” (Pope Benedict XVI)

  2. (and, if you have something left over): my Wishlist.