by James Day, for Catholic World Report
On September 12, 2006, Pope Benedict XVI took to the dais of the University of Regensburg’s Aula Magna to offer a few “memories and reflections.” Contrary to the resulting rebukes, the 79-year-old pontiff knew exactly what he was doing.
Ten years ago Pope Benedict XVI took to the dais of the University of Regensburg’s Aula Magna to offer a few “memories and reflections.” The speech, which became widely known simply as Regensburg, has long been dismissed as an infamous gaffe in a generally misunderstood pontificate; it was leveled as incendiary and undiplomatic in solemn rebukes from leaders like Jacques Chirac; it sparked firebombings and effigies; death threats from the Mujahideen Army against the pontiff; and generally did little to enhance Benedict’s reputation. But how much of Regensburg was actually read, understood, and properly digested, and what was its overall intention?
Contrary to the ensuing censure of the Pope and his speech, the 79-year-old pontiff knew exactly what he was doing. “As I said at the time,” stated Fr. James V. Schall, SJ about its lasting legacy, “this address is one of the world’s most penetrating analysis ever made of intelligence and the consequences of the willful refusal to face its truth.” If really taken to heart, Regensburg at one point may have been the touchstone for a more truthful world—and still might be, a decade later.
The address consists of 4,000 words and 16 paragraphs—one paragraph is for the introduction, three on Islam, and two its conclusion, leaving ten paragraphs devoted to the issue of “reason.” Yet, this issue of reason and its relationship to God is rarely the topic of debate or discussion about the address. That is reserved almost entirely for the short section about Islam, particularly Benedict’s citation of a 14th century Byzantine emperor, Manuel II, a quotation which the Pope himself prefaced as one of “startling brusqueness, a brusqueness that we find unacceptable.” The emperor’s statement—“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”—is the most cited passage, and the one sometimes leveled against Pope Ratzinger as his own.