In his first weekly audience since returning to the Vatican after his controversial speech in Germany, Benedict cast his use of the quotation by a Byzantine emperor as a rhetorical device meant to make his scholarly address on faith and reason more topical.
Benedict said the offending quote was necessary "to introduce the audience to the drama and relevance" of his talk. The pontiff added that the quote from Emperor Manuel Paleologos II demonstrated that faith should inspire reason, not violence. "I wanted to explain that religion and reason go together," he said, "not religion and violence."
At the same time, however, the pope's defensive posture runs the risk of further enraging critics who have accused the pontiff of making provocative use of the offending quote, rather than disavowing it altogether.
Benedict used his Wednesday address to distance himself from the controversial quote, calling Manuel's comments on Muhammad "incomprehensibly brusque." He conceded that the quotation "unfortunately lent itself to misinterpretation," and added, "I didn't want in any way to make the negative words of the medieval emperor my own." Benedict said the offending quote "did not express my personal convictions."
On Sunday, Benedict stopped short of a full apology, saying he was "deeply sorry for the reactions" provoked by the quote from the emperor, who criticized Islam's revered prophet.
"Show me just what Muhammad brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached," Benedict quoted Manuel II as saying. Speaking before a group of scholars at the University of Regensburg on Sept. 12, Benedict delivered a critique of the West and its tendency to deny God's influence over reason and science. Benedict said reason is an expression of God's nature. But he also criticized the concept of Islamic jihad, defining it as "holy war" and implying that jihad went against God's nature, because it lacked reason.
Benedict's remarks inflamed the Muslim world. Protesters have burned Christian churches, issued death threats to the pope and threatened to carry out terrorist attacks on Rome.
On Wednesday, one of Rome's top law enforcement officials, Achille Serra, said police were stepping up anti-terrorism measures. "There's no specific threat, but we'd be burying our heads in the sand if we didn't take action" Serra said.
Benedict played down the furor his comments have provoked, indicating that he considered the controversy an occasion for all sides to do some self-examination.
"I trust that after the initial reaction, my works at the University of Regensburg can constitute an impulse and encouragement toward positive, even self-critical, dialogue among religions and between modern reason and Christian faith," he said.