Benedict XVI and Inter-religious Dialogue: the Case of Islam

Fr Rocco Viviano SX
Research Associate, Heythrop Centre for Christianity and Inter-religious Dialogue, Heythrop Colelge, University of London

This paper presents the thought of Joseph Ratzinger-Benedict XVI on Islam and on Christian-Muslim relations in order to reflect on how he contributes to the progress of present-day engagement of Catholics, and Christians in general, with Islam.

Benedict XVI is both a theologian and Pope, and these two aspects have to be taken into account to appreciate the continuity between his theology and praxis. Moreover, to appreciate Benedict XVI and his approach to interreligious dialogue in depth it is important to understand the features of the modern papacy and the theological – especially ecclesiological – framework in which it operates. Ratzinger’s initial encounter with Islam takes place on the path of fundamental theological reflection.

As he seeks to articulate the Christian faith in order to present it as clearly as possible, Ratzinger at some point focussed on the place of Christianity within the development of the religious history of humanity, within which he encounters the religions and Islam in particular. In seeking to understand Benedict XVI’s thought on Islam, we must begin with the place of Islam within the historical development of the religious spirit of humanity. For Benedict XVI, there is a “fundamental unity” between Christians, Jews and Muslims, which is based on a shared experience of God’s self-revelation, although this is understood and articulated in different ways. His notion of Christian-Muslim dialogue originates from this starting point. The specific “unity” between Christianity and Islam, visible in their “mutual respect and solidarity”, is fully realized when authentic dialogue and engagement take place.