The Pope’s Lecture in Germany

By Linda E. Edwards

Comments on the speech by His Holiness Benedict XV1 at the University of Rothenburg on September 12, 2006.

Thank You, Editors of the Guardian Unlimited UK, for reproducing the speech in its entirety so that people everywhere who write and think in English could follow what was said.

It was indeed an erudite lecture, worthy of a professor grown to his mature years, and now occupying a position of world significance. Whatever platform, therefore, from which he spoke, his words were likely to reverberate everywhere. He knows this.

I have read the speech, including the reference to Islam, and then reread, deleting it. I find that the speech can stand without those comments as a wonderful weaving together of many threads – Greek thought, scientific inquiry, Christian faith – and that the thoughts of a Christian existing six hundred years ago, expressed about another faith of people of the Book at a time of territorial rivalry between the faiths, did not add one whit of clarity to the words of His Holiness.

Why then did he use them? To say that Islam was then, and is now, a barbaric religion given to violence in creating converts? If that was his intention, he was totally out of order. Christianity, the European Christianity he praised, was responsible for the deaths of millions of indigenous people in the Americas after Columbus “discovered” us. Christianity was responsible for the horrors in Europe called the Crusades (I like the one most where the Germanic Christians went to relieve a city in Byzanytium under siege, and when the relieved Christians ran out to greet their liberators, many were slain because they wore the same long robes that other dusty desert people do. The Germans did not notice the crosses on their clothes. Long robes to them meant infidels.)

I tell this episode for the same reason the Pope probably told his, to put Germanic Christians in a bad light for personal gain, the gain of pointing out that I know this story too. That it is perhaps unworthy of me, I also admit, but I am not the annointed leader of millions of Christians, more of whom are non-European than European. The Pope could have drawn the thread of scholarship to include what the Islamic scholars did during the Dark Ages to preserve scholarship and learning.

With Germany’s history of intolerance towards others in the era when the Pope, according to his revised bio was forced to become a member of Hitler’s Youth Brigade, the Brown Shirts, I think a man of his eminence should have forseen that this part of the speech would have caused offence. To fail to see that is unworthy of a man of his intelligence. To see it and do it anyway, is like the people in Europe who decided to commission and publish cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed. Men of sense ought to have assumed the reasonable possibility of offence, and offence has never moved us closer to “the Peace of God which passeth all understanding.”

In one speech, the first time he goes on tour, God’s Rottweiler has savaged the cause for which his Cardinal Arinze works so hard, good relationships between all major religions. But that mandate was given under another pope. I had not heard, however, that it was rescinded.

When Cardinal Arinze was in Houston,Texas USA (from where this letter is sent), some six years ago one of his first meetings was with leaders of other faiths – Jews, Muslims, Hindus and other Christians. That boded well for world peace.

His holiness may have set us back quite a bit. Is this a triumph for Europeanism?

Europeans cannot be the only interpreters of the words of that brown man from the Galilee, that carpenter’s son, whose most significant words in my opinion were “Love One Another As I Have Loved You.” I write them here, lest His Holiness forgets. If we are all created in God’s image, so are the people who follow the teachings that Mohammed was God’s last messenger.

“Wilt thou forgive my sin, wherein I have led others to sin,
and made my sin, their door?” John Donne.

Causing others unnecessary anger is a sin. Their vehemence will visit on his head.

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