Pope Benedict XVI’s Sept. 12 speech to the University of Regensburg in Germany ignited a worldwide controversy. His quotation of a 14th century Christian Byzantine emperor has created cracks in the relationship between Islam and Christianity, two of the world’s largest religions.
“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 pope said, quoting Manuel II Paleologus.
His address, “Faith, Reason and the University,” focused on the incompatibility of violence and the nature of God, which is reason and faith.
Emperor Manuel II Paleologus ruled the Byzantine Empire from 1391 to 1425, spending much of the time defending Constantinople from the Turkish. The Pope has speculated that the infamous quote was coined around 1391 when the emperor was discussing Christianity and Islam with “an educated Persian.”
The tension that exists between Islam and Christianity has not always been apparent. Muslims revere the Christian Jesus, and Islam’s prophet Muhammad is said to have married a woman with a Christian background and adopted his Christian slave as a son. However, the relationship between Christianity and Islam turned sour when Christians were uneager to follow Muhammad’s teachings.
Islam spread through vast areas of Christian-dominated land, using a militaristic conversion method not favored by the Christians in power. In response, Christian leaders launched the First Crusades in 1095, an aggressive attempt to regain territory and believers from Islam. The Crusades would leave a centuries-long bruise on the relationship between the two prominent religions.
Pope Benedict has been working to assuage the negative reaction to his comments. Apologizing only for the offense that was taken, the pope has assured the world of his utmost respect for Islam and also his hope that the relationship between the two religions may continue to develop.
>Sources: “The Shorter Cambridge Medival History” by C.W. Previte-Orton; “The Crusades and Colonial Imperialism: Some Historical Considerations Concerning Christian-Muslim Interaction and Dialogue,” by Livingstone M. Huff; Zenit News Services; “Manuel II Palaeologus (1391-1425); a study in late Byzantine statesmanship,” by John W. Barker; Toronto Daily News