Pope Benedict’s quoting of the Byzantine emperor Manuel II Paleologus during his lecture at the University of Regensburg has caused a great deal of controversy among the members of the Islamic faith.

The Holy Father said:

“In the seventh conversation edited by Professor Khoury, the emperor touches on the theme of the holy war. The emperor must have known that surah 2, 256 reads: “There is no compulsion in religion”. According to the experts, this is one of the suras of the early period, when Mohammed was still powerless and under threat. But naturally the emperor also knew the instructions, developed later and recorded in the Qur’an, concerning holy war. Without descending to details, such as the difference in treatment accorded to those who have the “Book” and the “infidels”, he addresses his interlocutor with a startling brusqueness on the central question about the relationship between religion and violence in general, saying: “Show me just what Mohammed brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached”. The emperor, after having expressed himself so forcefully, goes on to explain in detail the reasons why spreading the faith through violence is something unreasonable. Violence is incompatible with the nature of God and the nature of the soul. “God”, he says, “is not pleased by blood – and not acting reasonably is contrary to God’s nature. Faith is born of the soul, not the body. Whoever would lead someone to faith needs the ability to speak well and to reason properly, without violence and threats… To convince a reasonable soul, one does not need a strong arm, or weapons of any kind, or any other means of threatening a person with death…”.

There have been several calls from those in the Islamic world for Pope Benedict to apologize for his statements. However, he never claimed these were his words.

Yesterday the following statement was released from the Holy See Press Office.

“Concerning the reaction of Muslim leaders to certain passages of the Holy Father’s address at the University of Regensburg, it should be noted that what the Holy Father has to heart – and which emerges from an attentive reading of the text – is a clear and radical rejection of the religious motivation for violence.

“It was certainly not the intention of the Holy Father to undertake a comprehensive study of the jihad and of Muslim ideas on the subject, still less to offend the sensibilities of Muslim faithful.

“Quite the contrary, what emerges clearly from the Holy Father’s discourses is a warning, addressed to Western culture, to avoid ‘the contempt for God and the cynicism that considers mockery of the sacred to be an exercise of freedom.’ A just consideration of the religious dimension is, in fact, an essential premise for fruitful dialogue with the great cultures and religions of the world. And indeed, in concluding his address in Regensburg, Benedict XVI affirmed how ‘the world’s profoundly religious cultures see this exclusion of the divine from the universality of reason as an attack on their most profound convictions. A reason which is deaf to the divine and which relegates religion into the realm of subcultures is incapable of entering into the dialogue of cultures.’

“What is clear then, is the Holy Father’s desire to cultivate an attitude of respect and dialogue towards other religions and cultures, including, of course, Islam.”

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