The Christopher Dawson Society for the Study of Faith and Reason held its second meeting of the year on Tuesday 11 March at the Alexander Hamilton Institute. The group, which consists of students, faculty, and community members, focused its discussion on Pope Benedict XVI’s lecture, “Faith, Reason, and the University: Memories and Reflections,” which he presented at Regensburg University in September 2006.
The lecture prompted a storm of controversy as many criticized Pope Benedict for his references to a late 14th-century dialogue between “ the erudite Byzantine emperor Manuel II Paleologus and an educated Persian on the subject of Christianity and Islam, and the truth of both .” In the lecture, Pope Benedict uses this medieval dialogue to draw his audience’s attention to a fundamental aspect of Christianity—its reasonableness—and to the unreasonable and therefore unacceptable use of violence to spread the faith. As Manuel II put it, “God is not pleased by blood—and not acting reasonably is contrary to God’s nature.” Benedict points out that the famous beginning of John’s gospel states that “In the beginning was thelogos,” and that logos “means both reason and word—a reason which is creative and capable of self-communication, precisely as reason.” This understanding of God, Benedict notes, represented a “synthesis between the Greek spirit and the Christian spirit” and led the early Church to reject those who claimed that “God’s transcendence and otherness are so exalted that our reason, our sense of the true and good, are no longer an authentic mirror of God, whose deepest possibilities remain eternally unattainable and hidden behind his actual decisions.”
Instead, “the faith of the Church has always insisted that between God and us, between eternal Creator Spirit and our created reason there exists a real analogy, in which . . . unlikeness remains infinitely greater than likeness, yet not to the point of abolishing analogy and its language. God does not become more divine when we push him away from us in a sheer, impenetrable voluntarism; rather, the truly divine God is the God who has revealed himself as logos and, as logos, has acted and continued to act lovingly on our behalf.” Benedict argues that the “inner reapprochement between Biblical faith and Greek philosophical inquiry was an event of decisive importance” that “concerns us even today,” for Christianity “took on its historically decisive character in Europe.”
Although most commentators have focused attention on the implications of Benedict’s lecture on Catholic/Muslim relations, they have generally neglected his lecture’s message about Europe and its historical character. As he states, “this convergence