Pope invites Muslims to dialogue, slams 'holy wars'
REGENSBURG, Germany - Pope Benedict invited Muslims on Tuesday to join a dialogue of cultures based on the premise that the concept of an Islamic "holy war" is unreasonable and against God's nature.
In a major lecture at Regensburg University, where he taught theology between 1969 to 1977, Benedict said Christianity is tightly linked to reason and contrasted this view with those who believe in spreading their faith by the sword.
The 79-year-old Pontiff avoided making a direct criticism of Islam, packaging his comments in a highly complex academic lecture with references ranging from ancient Jewish and Greek thinking to Protestant theology and modern atheism.
In his lecture, the Pope quoted, among others, the 14th century Byzantine emperor Manuel II Paleologos who wrote that Mohammad had brought things "only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached."
The Pope, who used the terms "jihad" and "holy war" in his lecture, added in his own words: "Violence is incompatible with the nature of God and the nature of the soul."
Benedict several times quoted Emperor Manuel's argument that spreading the faith through violence is unreasonable and that acting without reason -- "logos" in the original Greek -- was against God's nature.
At the end of his lecture, the Pope again quoted Manuel and said: "It is to this great 'logos', to this breadth of reason, that we invite our partners in the dialogue of cultures."
"Just an example"
Papal spokesman Father Federico Lombardi said Benedict used Emperor Manuel's views on Islam only to help explain the issue and not to condemn all of the Muslim religion as violent.
"This is just an example. We know that inside Islam there are many different positions, violent and non-violent," he said. "The Pope does not want to give an interpretation of Islam that is violent."
Many Islamic leaders have denounced Muslim radicals for using violence, saying this perverts their faith, but a minority of extremists says the Koran commands them to use it.
Last week, the Pope said no one had the right to use religion to justify terrorism and urged greater inter-religious dialogue to stop the cycle of hate and revenge from infecting future generations.
On Monday, he prayed for the victims of September 11 on the fifth anniversary of the attacks against the United States.
At an open-air mass earlier in the day, Benedict told about 260,000 faithful that Christians believed in a loving God whose name could not be used to justify hatred and fanaticism. Organizers had expected 350,000 to attend.
Regensburg is the medieval city where the Pope taught theology from 1969 to 1977 and hoped to return in retirement from Vatican service to write one last major theological work.
As Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, he twice asked Pope John Paul to let him retire from his job as the Vatican's top doctrinal official, but John Paul refused.
At his university lecture, Benedict, a leading theologian who has always drawn clear lines between Roman Catholicism and other faiths, also appeared to criticize Protestant churches and contemporary Third World theologians for not stressing the link between faith and reason clearly enough.
Benedict stressed that his criticism of modern empirical reasoning "has nothing to do with putting the clock back to the time before the Enlightenment and rejecting the insights of the modern age."
"The intention here is not one of retrenchment or negative criticism, but of broadening our concept of reason and its application," said Benedict, who told the audience it was a moving experience for him to give a university lecture again. Reuters