The Regensburg Lecture by James V. Schall

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The Regensburg Lecture by James V. Schall is published by St. Augustine’s Press.

My initial attraction to this book was that it is written by James V. Schall.  Ever since re-reading Another Sort of Learning, I have been quite fond of Schall’s books.  Ever since reading The Classical Moment and Docilitas, I have been driven to attain and read everything Schall has written.  Ever since getting a very kind and witty answer from him after sending him an email, I have elevated him to super-hero status.  If he published his grocery shopping lists in book form, I would want to buy the book and read it. And it would be profound, funny, challenging, unexpected, and filled with quotes from Aristotle, Plato, Aquinas, and Peanuts cartoons.

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The Regensburg Lecture has a subtitle that is much like the ones found in books from a few centuries past.  It reads, “Pope Benedict XVI’s Regensburg Lecture (included in this book) called for freedom of conscience in religious matters and a reasoned debate. Not everyone agreed.”

I remember the occasion.  Pope Benedict gave a speech at a university in September 2006 that caused a firestorm in some Islamic circles.  Those people who are always appalled at any criticism of the Islamic religion were appalled, which is no surprise.  Islamic communities, which exist within the greater Islamic world, where any criticism, humor, hint of criticism, or slighting of Islamic things create volcanic reactions had…well…volcanic reactions.

In the daily or weekly sweep of news, I only knew that the Pope made a speech and riots and protests ensued.  And some in the West “wisely counseled” that the Pope had been undiplomatic and unwise in his attacks on another faith.  I also remember that some conservatives stood by the Pope and his message.

I assumed, through the years that followed, that the speech the Pope had given had included a detailed history of some of the conflicts between Islam and the West.  I have read and collected quite a few books that detail the conflicts that are not just restricted to the Crusades.  The Crusades themselves are not as cut and dried as some of the Crusade-bashing books have implied, but that is another story.  The clash of cultures has been going on with mistakes and missteps on both sides for centuries.  This in-depth historical story was, in my thinking, the gist of the Regensburg Lecture.

Then I read Schall’s book.  One hundred and thirty pages into the book, the actual lecture is in the book.  I recommend that the reader begin with Schall’s introduction and then skip over and read the speech. After that, proceed into the rest of the book.  The speech may be one of the most important speeches given in this century. (The century is still young, so we can make comparison to Churchill’s “Iron Curtain” speech or Martin Luther King’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail.”)

Benedict was not on a tirade or even scolding of Islam per se.  He recounted a discussion between the Byzantine Emperor Manuel II Paleologus and a Persian scholar.  The key question that the emperor raised with the Persian was the place of “compulsion in religion.” “Faith is born of the soul, not the body,” the emperor said. “Whoever would lead someone to faith needs the ability to speak well and to reason properly, without violence and threats….”

From there, the original discussion continued over the place of reason within religion.  From there, the Pope’s message focused on the history of the West, Christendom, the Christian Faith and the like to adhere to the idea that the Christian faith borrowed and made good use of Reason as taught by the Greeks.  Granted, this is a wide-ranging topic of discussion.  Many are the theologians and philosophers who have downed barrels of wine and beer and coffee hashing out the interaction between the Revelation and Reason. There are plenty of theologians who draw lines in the sand over the role of reason (or Reason) in theological thinking.  This debate crosses the borders between Protestantism (my affiliation), Catholicism (Schall’s affiliation), and Orthodoxy.  Jewish scholars, we might add, weigh in on this topic as well.  So do secular, unbelieving, and atheistic philosophers.

Therein lies the big difference.  Benedict gave a powerful and concise talk that focused on the role of reason with some focus on the fact that compulsion does not create religious followers.  Although he was the Pope at that time, he was “wearing,” figuratively speaking, professorial robes rather than ecclesiastical robes.

Schall writes, “It [the speech] was an argument that existed first of all, in true Aristotelian fashion, ‘for its own sake.’ It intended to state a truth. It claims no higher authority  but its argument for it.  Here Benedict does not say ‘believe what I say,’ or ‘this teaching is or is not in conformity with classical revelational teaching.’ Rather he says, ‘this is the argument a I understand it.’ His first task as a lecturer and our first task as readers are in the realm of intellect, of understanding what is said.”

Since September 11, 2001, our world has been flooded with books and analyses of the current confrontation(s) of the West with the Islamic World.  Those by skilled historians like Bernard Lewis, who was writing about the Middle East and related topics long before 9/11, are rich works of history and political analyses.  We been tossed to and fro by politicizing with debates over whether we can even identify the “enemy” with all Islam, with some branches of Islam, or with certain outlaw factions.

Aside from questions of who to bomb, who to ban, and who to blame, we have to have some moments of clarity and thought.  Our confrontation with terrorism is forcing us to think Worldviewishly.  What is there in the West that is so offensive for certain Islamic peoples? And what is there in the West that we are defending?

This all keeps getting back to discussions, even disagreements.  But that is what is at stake here.  There can be no compulsion in religion.  Yes, Catholics and Protestants alike have some searing failures over this from the past.  So do some harshly patriarchic fathers and domineering mothers.  So do some tyrannical pastors and church leaders.

This book and the speech it discusses is a very important work.  Thanks once again to James V. Schall for being a teacher, gentle, repetitive, learned, and clear.  Don’t skip this book.

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Summer visits from Father James V. Schall


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