The special “The Remains of Regensburg” is edited by Gabriele Palasciano. Text by Francis X. Clooney*.
I remain grateful to Pope Benedict for his concern, as cardinal and prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and then too as Pope, to preserve and promote the role of reason in the life of faith, faith and reason disciplined and focused by one another. I agree with the premise of the Regensburg lecture: God is not entirely beyond the reasonable; the Christian life does not benefit from an abandonment of reason; without a due integration of reason and faith, we are more prone to misunderstanding and violence. As the Emperor Manuel is quoted as saying, “Not to act reasonably, not to act with logos, is contrary to the nature of God.” Acting reasonably is consonant with the nature of God, and conducive to a more peaceful religion.
Since in the Regensburg context Benedict evinced his readiness to speak as professor and to be responded to as professor, I feel it accordingly appropriate simply to engage his lecture on the merits of what he did and didn’t say, without treating the speech as a papal declaration with implications for the wider Church as such. Although I will mention at the end of this piece his ancillary comments on Islam that caused global controversy, those will not be the focus of this reflection, lest that unfortunate segment of the lecture distract us from the main message of the whole of it. Rather, I wish to explore the substance and implications of his primary narrative, on reason in Christianity, and to express my discomfort and puzzlement at his steps from unobjectionable comments on faith and reason to what is, in my judgment, too close an identification of that dynamic with its Greek and then Western European instantiation. I agree that the Hebrew-Greek, and Christian-Greek encounters were very important and are formative; I do not think, however, that Benedict recognizes how the crucial interrelationship of faith and reason is not peculiar to a Christian Europe, and does not in some final way reach exclusive perfection there. Christianity’s synthesis of faith and reason is crucial, but this does not make Christianity the unique, special, singular religion of peace.
Benedict observes that Greek reason and Biblical revelation have gone hand in hand from very early on, in a way evident in Biblical texts not only from the time that Logos became prominent in the opening chapter of the Gospel of John, but even as early as the Book of Exodus: “In point of fact, this rapprochement [between faith and reason] had been going on for some time. The mysterious name of God, revealed from the burning bush, a name which separates this God from all other divinities with their many names and simply asserts being, “I am”, already presents a challenge to the notion of myth, to which Socrates’ attempt to vanquish and transcend myth stands in close analogy.” This comment does not of course mean that the author of Exodus borrowed from the Greeks; it is only an analogy. We can easily see how this significant moment in the story of Israel was transformative with respect to the religion of the Hebrews. Something new indeed happened, when Moses encountered God on the holy mountain. That being so, however, Benedict might well have made more of the point that this analogy is operative in many other contexts too, for example in West and East and South Asia, in Hinduism and Buddhism as well as Judaism and Islam. All these took myth seriously, even while both critiquing myth and extending the great narratives of their traditions to new circumstances.
The Greek translation of the Bible, the Septuagint, is of crucial significance for Benedict: from the logos per se to the actual play of words, Hebrew into Greek. The Septuagint is “more than a simple (and in that sense really less than satisfactory) translation of the Hebrew text.” Rather, he boldly insists, “it is an independent textual witness and a distinct and important step in the history of revelation,” a step which furthered the encounter of faith and reason “in a way that was decisive for the birth and spread of Christianity.” For in it we find a “profound encounter of faith and reason,” “an encounter between genuine enlightenment and religion.” The fact of the synthesis already present in the Septuagint suggests to Benedict that Manuel II, emperor in the East, was fundamentally correct: “From the very heart of Christian faith and, at the same time, the heart of Greek thought now joined to faith, Manuel II was able to say: Not to act ‘with logos’ is contrary to God’s nature.” […]
*Francis X. Clooney is a Jesuit since 1968 and was ordained a priest in 1978. He serves regularly in a parish on weekends, and blogs in the “In All Things” section of America magazine online. After earning his doctorate in South Asian languages and civilizations (University of Chicago, 1984), he taught at Boston College, the Jesuit university, for 21 years, before going to Harvard Divinity School in 2005. He is Parkman Professor of Divinity and Professor of Comparative Theology at Harvard University and, since 2010, Director of the Center for the Study of World Religions. His primary areas of Indological scholarship are theological commentarial writings in the Sanskrit and Tamil traditions of Hindu India. He is also a leading figure globally in the developing field of comparative theology, a discipline distinguished by attentiveness to the dynamics of theological learning deepened through the study of traditions other than one’s own. He has also written on the Jesuit missionary tradition, particularly in India, on the early Jesuit pan-Asian discourse on reincarnation, and on the dynamics of dialogue and interreligious learning in the contemporary world. Clooney is the author of numerous articles and books, including Thinking Ritually: Retrieving the Purva Mimamsa of Jaimini (Vienna, 1990), Theology after Vedanta: An Experiment in Comparative Theology (State University of New York Press, 1993), Beyond Compare: St. Francis de Sales and Sri Vedanta Deshika on Loving Surrender to God (Georgetown University Press, 2008), The Truth, the Way, the Life: Christian Commentary on the Three Holy Mantras of the Shrivaisnava Hindus (Peeters Publishing, 2008), and Comparative Theology: Deep Learning across Religious Borders (Wiley-Blackwell, 2010). He edited The New Comparative Theology: Voices from the Next Generation (Continuum, 2010) and co-edited European Perspectives on the New Comparative Theology (MDPI, 2014). His most recent monograph, His Hiding Place Is Darkness: A Hindu-Catholic Theopoetics of Divine Absence (Stanford University Press, 2013), is an exercise in dramatic theology, exploring the absence of God as dramatized in the biblical Song of Songs and the Hindu Holy Word of Mouth (Tiruvaymoli). He is finishing a book on Hindu-Christian learning, and is engaged in a larger book project on the consolidation and refinement of commentarial theology in medieval Hinduism, and the implications of these consolidations in the project of an integral, holistic Christian theology.