Cardinal Burke reassures us that the Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium is not part of the Papal Magisterium. Even if it were I suspect it would be merely ‘authentic’ teaching. No doctrinal judgement is proposed as binding on the faithful and therefore the guarantee of infallibility is not invoked. This is a relief as a number of things contained therein are, ahem, troubling. One very strange remark concerns Islam. The Holy Father tells us that,
“Faced with disconcerting episodes of violent fundamentalism, our respect for true followers of Islam should lead us to avoid hateful generalisations, for authentic Islam and the proper reading of the Koran are opposed to every form of violence.”
Now I have heard that Islam classically does not licence freelance military action apart from the Caliphate and so cannot be blamed for terrorism (although the abolition of the Caliphate was presumably not anticipated and so presumably what to do in that eventuality was presumably not anticipated either). It seems though that Muslims have traditionally held it was their duty to strive for the conquest of the entire world and the enforced conversion of all non-Christians and non-Jews to Islam and the oppression of the Christians and Jews that remain. That seems violent to me. The Holy Father however alleges that Islam is “opposed to every form of violence”. Tony Blair seemed to think that ‘real’ Islam was a form of Anglicanism. Pope Francis seems to be presenting ‘real’ Islam as a kind of Quakerism. I have never seen Islam presented as pacifist before and I am confused.
Father Zuhlsdorf promises on his blog to read ‘Francis through Benedict’. I am not sure about the propriety of this method. Certainly we ought to assume the Holy Father teaches us the truth but this presumption only gives way to certainty when as shepherd and teacher of all Christians, in virtue of his supreme apostolic authority, he defines a doctrine concerning faith or morals to be held by the whole Church. To labour excessively to reconcile the lesser teachings of successive pontiffs can give scandal by creating the impression that a Catholic ought to hold that they cannot contradict each other or err. Nevertheless, there is a famous pronouncement of Pope Benedict XVI that might help us to understand how Islam could be said to reject every form of violence. I am thinking of the Regensburg address of 2006 which was the occasion of so much controversy. Here Pope Benedict remarks,
“Violence is incompatible with the nature of God and the nature of the soul. ‘God’, he [the Emperor Manuel II] says, ‘is not pleased by blood – and not acting reasonably (σὺν 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…’. The decisive statement in this argument against violent conversion is this: not to act in accordance with reason is contrary to God’s nature. The editor, Theodore Khoury, observes: For the emperor, as a Byzantine shaped by Greek philosophy, this statement is self-evident. But for Muslim teaching, God is absolutely transcendent. His will is not bound up with any of our categories, even that of rationality. Here Khoury quotes a work of the noted French Islamist R. Arnaldez, who points out that Ibn Hazm went so far as to state that God is not bound even by his own word, and that nothing would oblige him to reveal the truth to us. Were it God’s will, we would even have to practise idolatry.”
For a ‘real’ Muslim therefore (according to Benedict XVI) violence does not really exist. There is no eternal reason only will and power and so unnatural and involuntary motion strictly does not exist for all corresponds with the will of Allah there is no violence of any kind for there is no nature, no freedom and no truth. Just as Socialism rejects poverty and oppression in every form (despite causing a great deal of it) so Islam as Pope Francis rightly teaches is opposed to every form of violence.