- The Washington Times - Friday, January 20, 2006

The pope on the Koran: A clarification

I think it is important for me to give context to and clarify the remarks I made recently in a radio interview with Hugh Hewitt, reported in Diana West’s column in The Washington Times (“Silence that speaks volumes,” Op-Ed, Friday).

The most important clarification is that the Holy Father did not say, nor did I, that “Islam is incapable of reform.”

What I did say — and it contains an unfortunate ambiguity — is that “in the Islamic tradition, God has given His word to Mohammed, but it’s an eternal word. It’s not Mohammed’s word. It’s there for eternity the way it is. There’s no possibility of adapting it or interpreting it, whereas in Christianity, and Judaism, the dynamism’s completely different, that God has worked through His creatures.”


Note first that it was the Koran that was referred to, not Islam. The comparison was between the Christian Bible and the Koran, not between Christianity and Islam. I said, paraphrasing the Holy Father, that “there’s an inner logic to the Christian Bible, which permits it and requires it to be adapted to new situations.” Then I maladroitly alluded to this comparison, referring to “that distinction when the Koran, which is seen as something dropped out of Heaven, which cannot be adapted or applied, even, and the Bible, which is a word of God that comes through a human community.”

I made a serious error in precision when I said that the Koran “cannot be adapted or applied” and that there is “no possibility of adapting or interpreting it.” This is certainly not what the Holy Father said. Of course the Koran can be and has been interpreted and applied. I was making a (too) crude summary of the distinction that the Holy Father did make between the inner dynamism of the Koran as a divine text delivered as such to Mohammed, and that of the Bible, which is both the Word of God and the words of men inspired by God, within a community that contains divinely appointed authorized interpreters (the bishops in communion with the pope).

The meeting was an informal one of the Holy Father and his former students. The presentation and the discussion were in German, and the Holy Father was not speaking from a prepared text. My German is passable but not entirely reliable. My later remarks in a live radio interview were extemporaneous. I think I paraphrased the Holy Father with general accuracy, but it was an indiscretion for me to mention what he said at all, and my impromptu paraphrase in another language should not be used for a careful exegesis of the mind of the Holy Father.

The Rev. Joseph Fessio

Provost, Ave Maria University

Editor, Ignatius Press

Naples, Fla.

Horse slaughter and property

The letter (“Appalling decision to allow horse slaughter,” Thursday) demeans the Department of Agriculture for “kowtow[ing] to the wishes of the three foreign-owned horse slaughterhouses rather than abide by the will of the American people.”

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