On September 12, 2006, Pope Benedict XVI gave an address to the Faculty of Science at the University of Regensburg entitled Faith, Reason and the University: Memories and Reflections. This address was widely reported by the press, especially the Pope’s remarks about Islam in which he cited the Byzantine emperor Manuel II Paleologus’ contention that violence is incompatible with the nature of God. In the aftermath there were riots and demonstrations, diplomatic protests were lodged throughout the world, and a nun was killed in Mogadishu. Here is the Wikipedia description of the controversy.
More interesting to me, and not reported by the press much at all, is the rest of what Benedict had to say at Regensburg. At risk of simplifying, I will pick out three major points:
1) Benedict claimed that Christianity must be viewed within the broader context of Greek philosophy. “This inner rapprochement between Biblical faith and Greek philosophical inquiry was an event of decisive importance not only from the standpoint of the history of religions, but also from that of world history — it is an event which concerns us even today.” (This is in response to what the Pope referred to as the “call for the dehellenization of Christianity”.)
2) He positioned the Church explicitly on the side of modern science. ”The scientific ethos, moreover, is. . .the will to be obedient to the truth, and, as such, it embodies an attitude which belongs to the essential decisions of the Christian spirit.”
3) He called into question logical positivism — citing the unity of human reason and the “intrinsically Platonic element” in science.
Spengler remarks somewhere that the Catholic Church is one of the few modern institutions that finishes its conversations. This should be reason enough, I think, to attend to the remainder of Benedict’s address. In my opinion, there is considerable philosophical sophistication in the Pope’s comments. Even for those of us who are not Catholic, the Regensburg address provides a refreshing counterpoint to the flat landscape of postmodernism. I recommend it.