Monday, September 25, 2006

Dogs of God

POPE Benedict XVI is of the Dominican order— from Domini canis, literally “dogs of God” to evoke canine loyalty and devotion and probably draws humorous inspiration from god spelled backwards.

Dominicans are incorrigible scholars of sorts. Hereabouts they founded the University of Sto. Tomas in the 16th century making it the oldest university in this part of the globe. Dominican friars were also responsible for introducing irrigation system in growing rice, thus doubling yields of the Filipino staple food plus paddy-grown vegetables in the 18th century.

Papa Ratzi is a typical Dominican. Dominicans are known to shun useless chatter. They do daily rapt labor in serene quietude. Or bury themselves in tome after tome of knowledge to keep their minds razor-sharp and agile. Why, such a mind once stretched by a tempest of ideas won’t return to its original dimension—the mind stretches out, reaches into vast frontiers, opens toward limitless horizons.

The current Prince of the Church typifies such a devout scholar. In a speech in Germany last week, he quoted 14th-century Byzantine Emperor Manuel II Palaeologus. It was that emperor who claimed that everything Prophet Muhammad brought was evil, “such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached.”

That was an ancient emperor’s opinion.

That wasn’t Papa Ratzi’s, make no mistake about that.

Sadly, ‘twas the pope that got the ire of Muslims worldwide. He had to reiterate that his use of medieval quotes critical of Islam did not reflect his own convictions. He was misunderstood.

“But for the careful reader of my text it is clear that I in no way wated to make mine the negative words pronounced by the medieval emperor and that their polemical content does not reflect my personal conviction.

“My intention was very different. I wanted to explain that religion and violence do not go together, but religion and reason do,” he pointed out.

He said he hoped the whole furor could eventually serve to encourage “positive and even self-critical dialogue, both among religions as well as between modern reason and the faith of Christians.”

Papa Ratzi’s explanations would readily be understood by Sufi Muslims. In contrast to the prevailing Islamic view of the dog as a foul, vicious and unclean animal, Sufis held the poverty and wretchedness of the dog in special esteem, considering themselves to be dogs -- or less than dogs -- in the eyes of Allah.

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