On January 25, 1076, Europe's most powerful king stood barefoot in the snow and knelt before a bishop. The king was Henry IV, the Holy Roman Emperor. He had been excommunicated by Pope Gregory VII for rising against the Church "with unheard of arrogance" during a controversy over who had the right to appoint bishops, and therefore control their land and treasure. All Christians were forbidden by the Pope to recognize Henry's authority, and his German nobles threatened to dispose Henry unless he won the Pope's forgiveness. The King crossed the Alps and appealed to Gregory directly, standing before him barefoot, and in sackcloth. The Pope demanded the ultimate guesture of pentinence, a prostration. The Emperor had to lie face down on the frozen ground. Only then did the Pope absolve the emperor, and lift the order of excommunication.
I think a similar guesture would be appropriate, this week, from the Pope formerly known as Ratzinger.
Insulting Muslims by quoting a 14th-century description of Islam as “evil and inhuman,” was a spectacularly stupid thing for the Pope to do. And though I condemn absolutely the Muslim reaction, a deep and persuasive apology from the Pope might be the only way to quell the flames.