Leonardo"s Notebook by Mattheus Mei

I have been impressed with the urgency of doing. Knowing is not enough; we must apply. Being willing is not enough; we must do.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Catholics to Muslims: The Pope Responds

::Update:: The Pope has Responded!!!! ::: BXVI responded to the Institute with this letter made available thanks to Rocco Palmo at Whispers in the Loggia:

From the Vatican, November 19, 2007
Your Royal Highness,

On 13 October 2007 an open letter addressed to His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI and to other Christian leaders was signed by one hundred and thirty-eight Muslim religious leaders, including Your Royal Highness. You, in turn, were kind enough to present it to Bishop Salim Sayegh, Vicar of the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem in Jordan, with the request that it be forwarded to His Holiness.

The Pope has asked me to convey his gratitude to Your Royal Highness and to all who signed the letter. He also wishes to express his deep appreciation for this gesture, for the positive spirit which inspired the text and for the call for a common commitment to promoting peace in the world.

Without ignoring or downplaying our differences as Christians and Muslims, we can and therefore should look to what unites us, namely, belief in the one God, the provident Creator and universal Judge who at the end of time will deal with each person according to his or her actions. We are all called to commit ourselves totally to him and to obey his sacred will.

Mindful of the content of his Encyclical Letter Deus Caritas Est ("God is Love"), His Holiness was particularly impressed by the attention given in the letter to the twofold commandment to love God and one’s neighbour.

As you may know, at the beginning of his Pontificate, Pope Benedict XVI stated: "I am profoundly convinced that we must not yield to the negative pressures in our midst, but must affirm the values of mutual respect, solidarity and peace. The life of every human being is sacred, both for Christians and for Muslims. There is plenty of scope for us to act together in the service of fundamental moral values" (Address to Representatives of Some Muslim Communities, Cologne, 20 August 2005). Such common ground allows us to base dialogue on effective respect for the dignity of every human person, on objective knowledge of the religion of the other, on the sharing of religious experience and, finally, on common commitment to promoting mutual respect and acceptance among the younger generation. The Pope is confident that, once this is achieved, it will be possible to cooperate in a productive way in the areas of culture and society, and for the promotion of justice and peace in society and throughout the world.

With a view to encouraging your praiseworthy initiative, I am pleased to communicate that His Holiness would be most willing to receive Your Royal Highness and a restricted group of signatories of the open letter, chosen by you. At the same time, a working meeting could be organized between your delegation and the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, with the cooperation of some specialized Pontifical Institutes (such as the Pontifical Institute for Arabic and Islamic Studies and the Pontifical Gregorian University). The precise details of these meetings could be decided later, should this proposal prove acceptable to you in principle.I avail myself of the occasion to renew to Your Royal Highness the assurance of my highest consideration.

Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone
Secretary of State

Emphasis added. A very well written refutation of what the Muslim Scholars said was required for dialog (includes a link to the letter), see Bp of Rochester Responds for an interesting take from that Anglican See. I think this is wonderful news and may lead to some very fruitful documents and discussions down the road.

::Update:: Hat tip to AmP :: It appears that on November 18, 300 Protestant Theologians and Scholars Responded to the Open letter from the Muslim World entitled: "Loving God and Neighbor Together:A Christian Response to A Common Word Between Us and You."

I chose to update using this post because as of yet the Vatican and Orthodox Heads have yet to respond, officially. Although the recent talks of Reunification and move by Rome to recognise Constantinople in a renewed light of equality in regards to prominance within Christendom are provacative in and of themselves in regards to the grand scheme of relations between Christians and Muslims.

For even better insight that I can offer, I strongly urge, and I can't emphasize that enough that you read Sandro Magister. Catholic/Muslim relations, indeed Christian/Muslim relations go further than any letters one addresses to the other. Here's a snipit:

"But – Troll objects – there is a gaping distinction between the one God of the Muslims and the Trinitarian God of the Christians, with the Son who becomes man. This cannot be minimized, much less negotiated. The true "common word" must be sought elsewhere: in "putting into effect these commandments in the concrete, here-and-now reality of plural societies." It must be sought in the defense of human rights, of religious freedom, of equality between man and woman, of the distinction between religious and political powers. The letter of the 138 is elusive or silent on all of this."

and another:

"In a dialogue to be intensified with Islam, we must bear in mind the fact that the Muslim world today is finding itself faced with an urgent task. This task is very similar to the one that has been imposed upon Christians since the Enlightenment."

So please, read it!

Original Post 10/13/07
It seems that the Vatican, which hasn't officially responded, did let on that the letter from Muslim religious leaders was 'a 'very encouraging sign.' More of Cardinal Tauran's comments are at American Papist. That though along with John Allen's column suggest that the response from the letter's principal addressee might be cooler than the immediate joyous reaction of some one like the Archbishop of Canterbury Dr. Rowan Williams.

From Allen's column:

“I think that you do have a strong school of thought in the Vatican which does not seem to believe that there can be a theological dialogue with Islam. It’s based on what I regard as an old theological position. In those days, the whole approach was that because Islam says that the Prophet is the final prophet and has the final revelation, therefore there can’t be any theological dialogue. It seems to me we’ve moved beyond that, at least we ought to move beyond that. But this is one of the questions that has arisen, and it has not been answered during this papacy.” (emphasis added)

It sounds like the Vatican's response is more in line with the early remarks made by the Bishop of Rochester I quoted earlier from Ruth Gledhill's blog (now Times Online Article). And the quintessential problem for Bishop Nazir-Ali?

For Dr Nazir-Ali, the document appears to be calling for dialogue on the basis of Muslim belief in the unity of God. He said: "If that were the case, we would all be Muslim. I would say, we need mutual witness and learning as well as witness to faith. I am quite happy for Muslims to witness to me. But it is not a one-way street.

the Unity of God is THE theological stumbling block for dialogue, but why?This is what Rochester says

...if we [Muslims] are going to talk it must be on the basis that you [the Christians] are no longer associating others with God. What I would say to that is that Christians uphold belief in one God vigorously but our understanding of the oneness of God is not the Muslim understanding.

We believe in God as source from whom everything is brought into being. Jesus is God's word and presence for us but is also human...We believe in one God but how we believe in one God is not the same as how Muslims believe in one God. There is an implicit assumption here that what Muslims believe is normative, and everyone else has to fall into line. (emphasis added)

The Vatican (and the rest of the world) of course is immensely aware of Islam's inflexibility - and flexibility is paramount in order to enter into dialogue. It's one thing to, as Bishop Nazir-Ali suggests, maintain the integrity of each Faith but it is another to be able to accept criticism (be self-critical?) and be honest with oneself and the other party about the present reality of extremism and the reality that is built in and grown from both religious theology and religious text, especially when one considers the 'arguments' put forward in this letter.

On these hang all the Law and the Prophets.

I still stand by the possible catechetical nature of the letter because the Christians noticed it, and I'm sure the Muslims will too - that with the emphasis in this letter placed on 'The greatest commandments' the clerics intentionally left out those verses of the Koran that explicitly deny the Christian belief that Jesus is the SON of God and ordering Muslims to tax or wage war against these 'unbelievers.' Is the paradigm shifting?

Well it appears so far The Vatican doesn't believe so.

So it's no wonder that the Vatican isn't calling in all the Scholars and Prelates and the entire army and arsenal of western thought and theological learning. It's no wonder that after events such as Regensburg the Vatican called upon diplomats and not theologians. It's no wonder when the Cardinal responds: This is a spiritual approach to inter-religious dialogue which I would call dialogue of spirituality [intentionally not calling it a theological dialogue]. Muslims and Christians must respond to one question: in your life, is God truly One?


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