[KB] Pope / Burke

wessr@onid.orst.edu wessr at onid.orst.edu
Wed Oct 11 16:07:48 EDT 2006

A belated comment on the Pope's speech.  It took me awhile to get around to
reading it, partly because I never imagined I'd post anything on it.  But when
I read it, I noticed a connection to Burke that is interesting.  Burke and the
Pope even both cite Duns Scotus to make a similar point.

The relevant Burke passage appears on p. 71 in the Grammar, where Burke
contrasts the idea that "God willed the good because it is good" (scene:act) to
the idea that "the good is good because God willed it" (agent:act).  Burke notes
that Duns Scotus and his followers objected to the scene:act
formulation because it "imposed limits upon the freedom of the divine will."

I believe that this opposition between scene:act and agent:act informs the
Pope's speech.  The Pope is on the side of scene:act, which he views as a
blending, in the early Church, of Christian faith and Greek commitment to

Opposition to scene:act in the name of agent:act arises not only from Islamic
thinkers but from Christian thinkers as well.  As the Pope put it, "there arose
with Duns Scotus a voluntarism which ultimately led to the claim that we can
only know God's `voluntas ordinata.'  Beyond this is the realm of God's
freedom, in virtue of which he could have done the opposite of everything he
has actually done. . . . God's transcendence and otherness are so exalted that
our reason, our sense of the true and good, are no longer an authentic mirror
of God, whose deepest possibilities remain eternally unattainable and hidden
behind his actual decisions."

The Pope calls this voluntarism a "dehellenization" of the Christian faith in
the modern age, which he traces through three stages, beginning with the
Reformation.  That's really the meat of the speech.

Anyway, aside from the fireworks the speech set off, it makes interesting
reading from the standpoint of the pentad.  I'd also be interested in knowing
what anyone well versed in theology thinks about the Pope's three stages of


Quoting Edappel8 at cs.com:

> The Pope's speech at the University of Regensburg is available online.  One
> can easily google it.  Whether Islam in general, or the Qu'ran in particular,
> incites to violence more so than other major religions in the contemporary
> world is not at issue in this post.  Nor is the possibility that the alleged
> proclivities toward violence of Muslim societies is a cultural phenomenon
> more so
> than a mainly religious one, Middle Eastern cultures being situated, in part,
> in intermediate stages of development, not yet integrated into thoroughly
> modern modes of social relationship.
> Those caveats having been made, I submit that the protestations that this
> speech was not meant to offend, that the objectionable words in the address
> were
> those of the 14th century Byzantine ruler, not those of the Pontiff, are a
> bit
> disingenuous.  That dodge is a rhetorical trick I've seen before.  Hey, the
> speaker didn't say that!  The guy he's quoting said it.  Don't blame him.
> If you do even a superficial cluster/agon analysis of this discourse, you'll
> find that the emperor's charge that Islam has brought only "violence," "evil"
> and "inhuman[ity]" to religion by way of "new" incentives, is not only not
> countered by the speaker's line argument.  It is validated by the placing of
> Islam as a violent faith on the side of Muslim theologian "Ibn Hazn," his
> "image
> of a capricious God," a God of absolute "otherness" and irrationality,
> "idolatry," and "the mockery of the gods who are merely the work of human
> hands."
> Last spring I posted at length on CRTNET on the features of intermediate
> cultures we teach in even introductory communication courses, attributes our
> leaders seem to be oblivious of as they stumble through the thickets of
> Middle
> Eastern lifeways.  One that's relevant to the Pope's quotation is intolerance
> toward diversity, or "high uncertainty avoidance," as the anthropologists put
> it.
> Whether the Pontiff made something of a valid point via his quotation, or was
> way off the mark in respect to Islam as a whole, he and his spokespersons
> should take responsibility for the obvious import of this message, and not
> try to
> pretend that no insult was intended at all.
> By the way, the address looked at in toto makes a sophisticated case for
> rationality in Christian faith as in modern science, and for something of an
> "analogy" between God and human beings on this score.  It truly sounds like
> the
> work of a former German professor of theology.
> Ed

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