In this season of the Cross, Catholics meditate on the suffering servant identified by the prophet Isaiah. That servant is none other than Jesus Christ. Christ's life, death and resurrection—filled with miracles and signs heralding His resurrection—fulfills the profile of the Messiah given by Isaiah.
Saint Paul knew from personal experience how difficult it would be for people of various cultures to understand why Jesus had to be crucified. For the more religiously disposed, whose most inspired matrix of belief was Judaism, the very suggestion of a crucified Messiah would be a scandal, while the more theoretical thinkers, none of whom were greater than the Greek philosophers, simply mocked the proposition.Centuries later when the Koran was written, subtleties were abandoned altogether, and Sura 4 plainly says of Jesus: “They slew him not nor crucified him.” The hard trials that our world is facing right now can, in large part, be traced to this denial of the Cross and Resurrection, for it replaces Christ’s atonement for human sin with a primitive understanding of salvation.
Islam believes that Jesus was raised bodily to heaven and will return to earth at the end of time. It holds that if Jesus had been crucified, he would have died, and that would have been his end. The consequences of not understanding God’s love, crowned and enthroned albeit with thorns on a cross, are vivid now in the horrors being inflicted on Christians in many places. For if God is pure will without reason, whose mercy is gratuitous and has nothing to do with any sort of moral covenant with the human race, then irrational force in his name is licit, and conscience has no role in faith. This is not the eccentric interpretation of extremists; it is the logical conclusion of the assertions in the Koran itself.The true Word of God confounds any crude dismissal of the crucifixion as though it were a denial, and not a proof of divine power. Jesus spoke of himself as the true Temple that, if destroyed, would be raised in three days. “Therefore, when he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this, and they came to believe the Scripture and the word Jesus had spoken” (John 2:22).
The decisive statement in this argument against violent conversion is this: not to act in accordance with reason is contrary to God's nature. The editor, Theodore Khoury, observes: For the emperor, as a Byzantine shaped by Greek philosophy, this statement is self-evident. But for Muslim teaching, God is absolutely transcendent. His will is not bound up with any of our categories, even that of rationality. Here Khoury quotes a work of the noted French Islamist R. Arnaldez, who points out that Ibn Hazm went so far as to state that God is not bound even by his own word, and that nothing would oblige him to reveal the truth to us. Were it God's will, we would even have to practise idolatry.—R. Arnaldez, Grammaire et théologie chez Ibn Hazm de Cordoue, Paris 1956, p. 13; cf. Khoury, p. 144.
At this point, as far as understanding of God and thus the concrete practice of religion is concerned, we are faced with an unavoidable dilemma. Is the conviction that acting unreasonably contradicts God's nature merely a Greek idea, or is it always and intrinsically true? I believe that here we can see the profound harmony between what is Greek in the best sense of the word and the biblical understanding of faith in God. Modifying the first verse of the Book of Genesis, the first verse of the whole Bible, John began the prologue of his Gospel with the words: "In the beginning was the λόγος". This is the very word used by the emperor (Manuel II Paleologus. cf. Regensburg Lecture): God acts, σὺν λόγω, with logos. Logos means both reason and word - a reason which is creative and capable of self-communication, precisely as reason. John thus spoke the final word on the biblical concept of God, and in this word all the often toilsome and tortuous threads of biblical faith find their culmination and synthesis.