Monday, September 18, 2006

What the Pope really, actually said in Regensburg...

Pre-Papal Ratzinger with German Philosopher Jürgen Habermas
Catholic Academy of Bavaria, Germany in 2004
(Image from

I've already noted today's point in a comment that I posted to yesterday's blog entry, but posting it as a separate entry will serve to emphasize it.

The Pope's remarks, originally in German, deserve a more accurate translation. The block quote below presents the official English text with alterations in red font to fit the Pope's original German address:

In the seventh conversation (διάλεξις – controversy) edited by Professor Khoury, the emperor touches on the theme of the holy war. The emperor must have known that surah 2, 256 reads: "There is no compulsion in religion". According to the experts, this is one of the suras of the early period, when Mohammed was still powerless and under threat. But naturally the emperor also knew the instructions, developed later and recorded in the Qur'an, concerning holy war. Without descending to details, such as the difference in treatment accorded to those who have the "Book" and the "infidels", he addresses his interlocutor with an astonishing brusqueness, for us an astounding brusqueness, bluntly on the central question about the relationship between religion and violence in general, saying: "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". The emperor, after having expressed himself so very forcefully, goes on to explain in detail the reasons why spreading the faith through violence is something unreasonable. Violence is incompatible with the nature of God and the nature of the soul. "God", he says, "is not pleased by blood -- and not acting reasonably ("συν λόγω") is contrary to God's nature. Faith is born of the soul, not the body. Whoever would lead someone to faith needs the ability to speak well and to reason properly, without violence and threats... To convince a reasonable soul, one does not need a strong arm, or weapons of any kind, or any other means of threatening a person with death...".
Compare my alterations to the crucial portion of the official English translation:

Without descending to details, such as the difference in treatment accorded to those who have the "Book" and the "infidels", he addresses his interlocutor with a startling brusqueness on the central question about the relationship between religion and violence in general, saying: "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". The emperor, after having expressed himself so forcefully, goes on to explain in detail the reasons why spreading the faith through violence is something unreasonable.
Now, first of all, this official English translation itself shows the Pope putting distance between himself and the words of the Byzantine emperor Manuel II Paleologus, and a careful reading will note this, but the German original is even more expressive of distance.

For those interested, the original German words behind my alterations are:

in erstaunlich schroffer, uns überraschend schroffer Form ganz einfach

nachdem er so zugeschlagen hat
In the first of these two, an entire phrase is left out, "uns überraschend schroffer Form," which I've rendered as "for us an astounding brusqueness." Also missing is the expression "ganz einfach," which I take here to mean "bluntly." In the second of these two, "nachdem er so zugeschlagen hat," I think that the word "zugeschlagen" carries more force than the translation renders, so I've added the intensifier "very." With these small changes made for greater precision, the Pope is more clearly shown to be carefully distancing himself from the Byzantine emperor's words.

Unfortunately, the English text that appeared in the media was an official one provided by the Vatican, and someone in the Catholic hierarchy will have to accept responsibility for that text with its imprecise translations. But even given their imprecision, they indicate that the Pope doesn't fully agree with the manner in which the Byzantine emperor expressed himself. Moreover, the English text -- like the German text itself -- is merely provisional, as the endnote informs:
The Holy Father intends to supply a subsequent version of this text, complete with footnotes. The present text must therefore be considered provisional.
I don't doubt that the subsequent English translation will strive for more accuracy, and likely add some explanatory footnotes to the disputed points.

Incidentally, I see that the Pope's old nemesis, Hans Küng, has spoken out for the Pope on this issue:
Dissident Swiss theologian Hans Küng, one of the Pope's harshest critics, also defended the leader of the world's 1.1 billion Roman Catholics, saying he didn't intend to provoke the Islamic world. ("Couchepin backs Pope's Islam comments," Neue Zürcher Zeitung, September 17, 2006)
I'm glad that Küng has spoken out on this issue, for his years of work in interreligious dialogue should give his statement added weight among Muslims.

Meanwhile, violent, unreasonable reactions to the Pope's words against violence and unreason in religion continue.


At 6:40 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This really does show the danger of intellect doesn't it. The Pope relies upon subtleties to distance his position. His style of address requires that: in a carefully reasoned argument, he can't throw in violent words to show his true position. But the press does not do subtlety. And given the inflammation of the times, neither does Islam. You tease meaning open nicely. Mind you--you have a master teacher. Ah, Milton, what pamphlet would you write to these battling parties?

At 6:47 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Thanks, Eshuneutics. You've hit the nail on the head. This Pope is an intellectual, and he's going to be misunderstood by much of the media -- and intentionally misunderstood by the radical Islamists.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 9:27 AM, Blogger LorMarie said...

-- and intentionally misunderstood by the radical Islamists.

It appears that anyone outside of the fold of radical Islam would be would be misunderstood by them.

At 10:52 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

At any rate, misunderstood.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 9:24 PM, Blogger Conservative in Virginia said...

It appears the Vatican published the Pope's speeach only in English, German, and Italian. Most of the outrage over his remarks is occurring in countries where none of these languages are spoken.

I'm having trouble figuring out how people in Somalia, Turkey, Iran, etc. are confused by an imprecise translation into English.

(Well, actually I think I do understand. The Pope's words are not an easy read in any language and there are many people ready to exploit Islam for political purposes.)

At 9:56 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

CIV, I don't think that the controversy has arisen due to confusion but rather to intention. This is a manufactured controversy driven by political motives ... as you also note.

The Pope's actual words, however, remain important because he can always point to them and say, "You see, I didn't say what you've been told that I said."

This episode reminds me of the cartoon controversy, also manufactured.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 2:17 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

In listening to several "moderate" Muslims respond to the Pope's speech, I've heard it said that it's offensive for anyone to refer to Mohammed in less than wholly flattering terms. At the same time, these "moderates" flagrantly mischaracterize the attitude of Islam towards Jesus and Christianity, and often cite a very potted version of Islamic history. Isn't this asymmetrical approach at the heart of the trouble between Islam and the West? And isn't that part of what the Pope was trying to say?

At 4:00 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Thanks, Allen Khodabash, for the comment. I've read statements by some Muslims that no one should be allowed to criticize Muhammad in any way. I don't know how universal this view is, but it does look pretty widespread.

As for the Pope's message, I think that it was a lot broader than just the differences between Islam and Christianity, but that asymmetry that you note is certainly a part of the Pope's speech.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 7:07 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Ratzinger defenders are every bit as insane as the Wahabbis.

At 9:45 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Thanks, Felix, for your informed, reasoned, well-supported comment.

I have now seen the error of my ways in trying to establish what, precisely, the Pope stated, and I will try no longer to riot in the streets or call for the death of those who disagree with me.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 7:38 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you for taking the time with the actual German text. As one who has tried to read the English translations of "On Being a Christian" and "Being and Time", I appreciate the gap of the real sense of meaning between the languages. If the pope was not the pope, the lecture probably would have passed into obscurity like most of his university lectures. Who, in the general public square, knows his theological history of thought? Not many of us, and not many really care I submit. As the POPE however, and in a position to be the last word from the Christian point of view in the eyes of some people, his words carry the weight/baggage of 2000 years of history and are open to all because it now gets a public hearing. It's very frustrating that we live in a world where cartoons and lectures on religion get people killed. Rodney King had it right, "Why can't we all just get along"? It is a sad world indeed that is emerging in the 21st century.
Thanks again for your efforts to get to a deeper understanding of his message.

At 9:23 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Thanks, Deezee, for the comment. I did want to understand precisely what the Pope had said, and when I found it, I realized that the English translation didn't convey his careful phrasing.

We do, indeed, live in an increasingly dangerous world. Perhaps this experience will open people's eyes to the abyss whose edge we stand upon. I think that Muslims, in particular, have an obligation to step back and reconsider their reaction.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 11:15 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi, I was totally fascintaed by the differences highlighted by you in the translations of the Pope's speech.

I am a Muslim and it is my belief that we are to hold the Prophet Muhammed (S.A.W) in the highest light possible. Bearing that in mind, it was disconcerting to hear the Pope cite the quotation. However intellectual it might have been, we do no longer exist in an environment that bases it's existence and decisions on intellectual banter but rather it is a harsh terrain of Socio political and religous difference that has given rise to the "extremist" reactions we see today.

There is a fundamental failure by the media and the West to distinguish its critisms of Islam from Islamic Middle East and Global Islam. The West and it's interference in the Middle East conflict has allowed the leadership in that region to stand back and allow it's residents to lay blame on the West (who is not entirely innocent)and has given rise to the fundamental Muslim you see today. The focus should be on policy and politics and not on religion....I believe that this is what the aim of the Pope was but his team failed miserably. You cannot regardless of intention, focus a quote based on a concept that has already garnered reaction, as a medium to gain dialogue, especially since tensions have risen to the point where the ultimate goal of political and social freedom has been lost upon the inhabitants in that region. The pope should have said outright what his intentions were and maybe the reaction would have been avoided.

I often wonder as a Muslim if the Middle East had been poulated by a religion other than Muslims, how this would have turned out...

At 4:01 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Thanks, Khalid, for your comment. If I understood you correctly, you suggest that the Pope chose the wrong quote if his intention was to contribute toward interreligious dialogue.

I can see your point.

On the other hand, I think that the issue of reason and violence in religion needs to be openly discussed with tough questions being asked.

The Pope chose a provocative quote and put it in the context of theological views on God's nature, i.e., rational or voluntarist, and argued that in principle, the former limits violence in religion whereas the latter does not.

The Pope is asking a rather pointed question about Islam's conception of God and religious violence, but he notes that Christianity has also sometimes slipped away from the concept of a rational God -- such as with the Medieval Nominalist view or with some variants of Protestantism -- and thus has also opened itself to violence.

Whether an empirical support can be brought to support the Pope's views, I don't know, but that's not his point, which is an intellectual one.

As for myself, I'd agree that violence fomented by a particular religion stems not just from its theology but also from other factors -- political, social, economic, demographic, etc. -- but the Pope probably would as well.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 12:21 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

So after he had washed their feet, and had taken his garments, and was set down again, he said unto them, Know ye what I have done to you? 13: Ye call me Master and Lord: and ye say well; for so I am. 14: If I then, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet; ye also ought to wash one another's feet. 15: For I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done to you. 16: Verily, verily, I say unto you, The servant is not greater than his lord; neither he that is sent greater than he that sent him. 17: If ye know these things, happy are ye if ye do them. 18: I speak not of you all: I know whom I have chosen: but that the Scripture may be fulfilled, He that eateth bread with me hath lifted up his heel against me. 19: Now I tell you before it come, that, when it is come to pass, ye may believe that I am he. 20: Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that receiveth whomsoever I send receiveth me; and he that receiveth me receiveth him that sent me. John 13:12-20


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