Hugh Hewitt last Thursday had what I thought was a very interesting interview with Father Joseph Fessio, Provost of Ava Maria University in Naples, Florida, and student and friend of Benedict XVI. The interview was basically a discussion of the Pope’s view of Islam, and they get into an interesting exchange about Islam and the West. Here is a portion of the interview that really interested me:
HH: Father Fessio, before the break, you were telling us that after the presentation at Castel Gandolfo by two scholars of Islam this summer with Benedict in attendance, as well as his former students, for the first time in your memory, the Pope did not allow his students to first comment and reserve comment, but in fact, went first. Why, and what did he say?
JF: Well, the thesis that was proposed by this scholar was that Islam can enter into the modern world if the Koran is reinterpreted by taking the specific legislation, and going back to the principles, and then adapting it to our times, especially with the dignity that we ascribe to women, which has come through Christianity, of course. And immediately, the Holy Father, in his beautiful calm but clear way, said well, there’s a fundamental problem with that, because he said 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. And so, it is not just the word of God, it’s the word of Isaiah, not just the word of God, but the word of Mark. He’s used His human creatures, and inspired them to speak His word to the world, and therefore by establishing a Church in which he gives authority to His followers to carry on the tradition and interpret it, there’s an inner logic to the Christian Bible, which permits it and requires it to be adapted and applied to new situations. I was…I mean, Hugh, I wish I could say it as clearly and as beautifully as he did, but that’s why he’s Pope and I’m not, okay? That’s one of the reasons. One of others, but his seeing 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, it was stunning.
I find the several closing sentences by Fassio to be very beautiful, and interesting as well. Beautiful in the sense that God has chosen humanity to speak His Word to, and to pass it down, translate it, interpret it, etc. Fassio also goes on to say that though the Bible has an inner logic which “permits it and requires it to be adapted and applied to new situations.”
I believe that the word of God has come through a human community, but how do we interpret it as a community? Some communities would not allow for, or do not allow for any inner logic that allows it to be applied to new situations, while others go too far ultimately, giving ultimate control to the community without any perameters of how that text is interpreted by a community.
Most Christians I think are afraid of a slippery slope, and if one thing is allowed the ability to be applied in a new way, then everything goes. I understand that fear, but I do not think that it is true.
One of the reasons that I went to Fuller Theological Seminary, and that I work at my church is that they allow for women in ministry, from any director position, to ultimately being ordained as a Minister of Word and Sacrament. This is one key issue for example, where I understand Fassio’s words here, and where I believe that a new application of interpretation in community was, and is appropriate.