August 25, 2010

What About Islam?

For a long time I've been bothered by not knowing what to think about Islam. Current events are bringing it up for me once again.

On the one hand, it seems to me that there is a sense in which the confession of Christianity has to include a denial of the truth of Islam. The angel Gabriel announced the birth of Jesus Christ to Mary. Some centuries later he is said to have revealed the Qur'an to Muhammed. If I admit that this latter claim is true, even if I also accept the former, I ought to become a Muslim right now. If I go another day without converting to Islam, it seems to me that I'm denying that this revelation occurred. Either Gabriel came to Muhammed or he didn't. Perhaps I am simpleton in this regard, but I don't see any coherent way out of this dilemma.

So it would seem to me, in my own reflection, that there is no theological relationship between Christianity and Islam (in the sense that there is a theological relationship of Christianity to Judaism, not for example) However, I'm not ready to stand on this claim. Why? Because I look to the Church's teaching, and I don't know what to make of it. Nostra aetate, Vatican II's famous decree on non-Christian religions, has some nice things to say about Islam, but does not get at the question of a theological relationship, of a sense in which the existence of Islam might have meaning for Christianity (and hence for God.)

Lumen gentium 16 presents something harder:

Sed propositum salutis et eos amplectitur, qui Creatorem agnoscunt, inter quos imprimis Musulmanos, qui fidem Abrahae se tenere profitentes, nobiscum Deum adorant unicum, misericordem, homines die novissimo iudicaturum.

But the plan of salvation also embraces those who know the Creator, among whom first are the Muslims, who profess to hold the faith of Abraham, with us adore the one, merciful God, and will judge the human race on the last day.

The "propositum salutis," the plan, or design of salvation, which we read to be God's plan, seems to include Islam, at least according to Lumen gentium. As I described above, I'm not sure how to understand this myself, but it is what the Church seems to say.

Amplector is a rather interesting and suggestive verb in this text: amb, "around" plus plecto from the Greek, πλεκω, to twine, braid, or weave.


Adoro said...

That right there is one of the problematic areas of Vatican II and leads to this very confusion.

I reject Islam outright because I have embraced Christianity as True.

However, I am willing to accept those small parts of Islam that are also true, and I compromise nothing in doing that. It is the same approach I have to Buddhism or other religions. Even a broken clock is right twice per day!

Brother Charles said...

Adoro: Yes. More or less the position of Nostra aetate. Aren't you glad I'm giving you a chance to be theologian beyond supplying the name of the Pope? :)

ben in denver said...

It seems like the general plan of paragraph 16 is to outline our closeness to various peoples who have not heard the Gospel, so that we are reminded more urgently of our mission to evangelize them.

Sure the paragraph talks of those who acknowledge the God of Abraham as being a part of the plan of salvation, but also speaks of those "who, living and dying in this world without God, are exposed to final despair." as belonging to the saving mission of the Church for the greater glotry of God.

I don't see the conflict here, LG asks us to bring the Gospel to the muslims. It seems clear that the council envisioned muslims, if they are saved, being saved through the action of Christ and His church.

I think this sentence from paragraph 17 provides an interpreative key to what 16 says about muslims:

Through [the Church's] work, whatever good is in the minds and hearts of men, whatever good lies latent in the religious practices and cultures of diverse peoples, is not only saved from destruction but is also cleansed, raised up and perfected unto the glory of God, the confusion of the devil and the happiness of man.

Thom, sfo said...

If you haven't, you ought to check out the pssages in the Qur'an that discuss Mary and Jesus. ;-)

Christopher said...

I have been involved in another thread that is discussing similar things and the text we've been struggling with is Pascendi Dominci Gregis promulgated by Pope Pius X (papacy 1903-1914). Although largely directed at Catholic Modernist theologians such as Alfred Loisy, there is one mention of Islam in it (para 14). While discussing the Modernist believer, as someone distinct from the Modernist philosopher, Pope Pius writes:

"How far this position [Modernism] is removed from that of Catholic teaching! We have already seen how its fallacies have been condemned by the Vatican Council [I]. Later on, we shall see how these errors, combined with those which we have already mentioned, open wide the way to Atheism. Here it is well to note at once that, given this doctrine of experience united with that of symbolism, every religion, even that of paganism, must be held to be true. What is to prevent such experiences from being found in any religion? In fact, that they are so is maintained by not a few. On what grounds can Modernists deny the truth of an experience affirmed by a follower of Islam? Will they claim a monopoly of true experiences for Catholics alone? Indeed, Modernists do not deny, but actually maintain, some confusedly, others frankly, that all religions are true. That they cannot feel otherwise is obvious. For on what ground, according to their theories, could falsity be predicated of any religion whatsoever?"

A little later in the same paragraph, Pope Pius seems to condemn, in advance, the conclusions reached by the Council Fathers in Nostra aetate and Unitatis Redintegratio, specifically that all Modernist Catholics may rightly claim is that Catholic truth shines a little brighter than the rest. Pius X writes:

"In the conflict between different religions, the most that Modernists can maintain is that the Catholic has more truth because it is more vivid, and that it deserves with more reason the name of Christian because it corresponds more fully with the origins of Christianity."

The Council Fathers wrote in Unitatis Redintegratio (para 3):

"It follows that the separated Churches and Communities as such, though we believe them to be deficient in some respects, have been by no means deprived of significance and importance in the mystery of salvation. For the Spirit of Christ has not refrained from using them as means of salvation which derive their efficacy from the very fullness of grace and truth entrusted to the Church."

All this extended quoting leads me to this question: Did the Council Fathers fall into a Modernist "trap" that was condemned by Pope Pius X? The Catholic Church claims a “fullness” of truth and grace for itself while not denying the efficacy of other religions, including Islam. Isn't claiming "fullness" another way of saying Catholicism is "more vivid" (Pius' words)?

Caedmon said...

This is a question I've wrestled with for a few years, especially since working side-by-side with an Islamic chaplain for a couple years.

The downside to the language of church documents on this issue is that they don't give me a nice, easy answer I can quote and put the issue to rest. What I appreciate, however, is that they don't require me to pretend there's a nice, easy answer that puts the question aside.

I get to live in the tension of knowing Muslim and Christian are not the same without having to make them an enemy or assume to know their eternal state before God.

Deacon Sean Smith said...

Returning to the quotation from LG 16, I wouldn't necessarily interpret it as saying that the design/plan of salvation includes Islam as a religion or theology. I read it to say that those who know the Creator God, the God of Abraham, by virtue of knowing God, are part of God's plan of salvation. To the extent that a follower of Islam is in relationship with God, the most foundational part of God's economy of salvation has been laid.

It is closer to the truth to acknowledge the God of Abraham than it is to not acknowledge the God of Abraham. But that is not to say that the fullness of the truth, the fullness of that relationship that God calls us to, is realized through Islam.

Acknowledging the parts that are true, or that we share in common, does not mean to embrace the whole.

kat said...

I agree with Deacon S. S....though I am a Muslim.....He wrote--"But that is not to say that the fullness of the truth, the fullness of that relationship that God calls us to, is realized through Islam."---change the "Islam" to "Christianity" and it would be my sentiments too.
.......(though the term "salvation" has a different meaning for Christians and Muslims)

tgshaw said...

"For the Spirit of Christ has not refrained from using them as means of salvation which derive their efficacy from the very fullness of grace and truth entrusted to the Church."

---I don't see this statement of the Second Vatican Council as saying that Catholics should accept the beliefs of other religions, just that we recognize that the Holy Spirit can use other religions to bring people to God. It clearly states that any good, or "efficacy," in other religions depends on the Church for grace and truth. A possible analogy is that a newborn infant doesn't know that it has all its needs met by its parents, but that doesn't make it any less true. A member of another religion may not believe that it's the presence of the Holy Spirit in and through the Church that leads to salvation, even for non-Catholics, but that doesn't make it any less true.


All this extended quoting leads me to this question: Did the Council Fathers fall into a Modernist "trap" that was condemned by Pope Pius X?

---This statement concerns me a bit. When it comes to Church teaching, an Ecumenical Council trumps an encyclical, even if it was written by a saint. What Pius X wrote needs to be looked at in the light of the Council, not the other way around.

Christopher said...

And after Pius X’s writings have been looked at in light of the Council, what then? Is what he wrote abrogated by the Council’s decree? The position he seems to be condemning, unless I’m reading it wrong, is that if the Modernist view holds true then all the Catholic Church will be able to say of itself is that it is “more vivid…because it more because it corresponds more fully with the origins of Christianity.” I think (and this is just my interpretation of Pius’ encyclical) that his concern was for an increasing relativistic stance where one religion is equated as good as the other. While the Council claims the “fullness of grace and truth” for the Catholic Church, in an attempt to dispel any relativism (i.e. we are still saying we’re #1), it still says that other religions can accomplish the same goal (eternal beatitude – CCC 1703). Imagine the conversation:

“I’d like to invite you to be a Catholic.”
“Why? I’m a Baptist” (Methodist, Muslim, Hindu, etc.).
“Well, because if you are a Catholic, you can have the fullness of grace and truth.”
“Oh. Well, if I don’t have that, can I still know God and go to heaven?”
“Well, how can that be if I don’t have the fullness of grace and truth?”
“Well because your Baptist Church gets its efficacy from the Catholic Church.”
“So then I can be saved as a Baptist because of the Catholic Church?”
“Then why be Catholic?”

And the cycle continues. I realize I’m making a bit of a caricature out of it and I’m not trying to be snide, but this is how it all plays out for an average layperson, especially a non-Catholic layperson. I think I’ve had a conversation like this about 50 times. Of course, one can (I have) explain what is contained within the fullness of grace and truth (obviously Eucharist comes to mind), but still, when all the argumentation and apologetics books are put aside, the person may still likely ask, “But I still can be saved as a Baptist, right?” “Yes.” “Then why be Catholic?”

Was the goal of the Council to avoid triumphalism? If so, can that be accomplished by extending derivative truth (my phrase) to other religions? I’m not sure what sounds more triumphant: Catholics are the only ones that can be saved or everyone can be saved but only because of the Catholic Church. The first sounds like exceptionalism, the second sounds condescending. Imagine someone claiming (very publically, like in a document) the promotion you received at work was because of their hard work, not yours. Ouch! Tough to build ecumenical or inter-religious dialogue when that is our starting point.

Not trying to be argumentative just for the sake of arguing; I’m just looking to work out some of my thoughts in this forum. I’m not attacking anyone’s position or the position of the Church; I’m only trying to understand it better. Sorry for being so verbose.

Brother Charles said...

You are not verbose, at all. Rather, you point out the difficulty of the pastoral/ecumenical question.

Deacon Sean Smith said...

I, too, have been part of similar Q&A. I think we are far too apologetic (as in "I'm sorry), and should ask a few questions ourselves. Challenging people is not the same as attacking people (Jesus did the former, but not the latter).

For example, let's look at the portion of the dialogue that goes:
“Well, because if you are a Catholic, you can have the fullness of grace and truth.”

“Oh. Well, if I don’t have that, can I still know God and go to heaven?”

A different response than simply saying "Yes" might be:
"So, you are interested in knowing God and going to heaven, but not interested in the fullness of grace and truth of that same God? John tells us that Jesus came that we might have life, and have it more abundantly (cf. Jn 10:10). And if Jesus IS the truth, why would you want less than the abundance and fullness of truth?"

If we are going to invite people into that fullness, then we need to not settle for the "good enough" line of thinking. When we drink from the cup of grace, we will find it overflowing, not just enough to wet our whistle.

Anonymous said...

How can any teleological comparison between these religions be made without the comparison taking place in light of the historical, geographical and cultural background leading up to the time of the revelation? This seems especially important with religions that are so entwined by these parameters.

Anonymous said...

I think you fail to consider that religions such as Hinduism or Islam or Judaism or Buddhism.... do not feel they lack truth or that they "will not get to heaven". That they lack truth and won't be "saved" is simply an opinion. (and a judgemental one at that). It would be better for Christians to concentrate on "showing the truth" not through incomprehensible words---but through actions---be the "Christ"(pbuh). Show them how the world, nations, societies and individuals can be better by actually building such individuals, societies and nations...the Quran Surah 5 verse 48---To you we sent the scripture in truth, confirming the scripture that came before it, and guarding it in each among you have we prescribed a Law and an open way. If God had so willed he would have made you a single people, but he tests you, so strive as in a race (competition)in all virtues. The Goal of you all is to God. It is he that will show you the truth of the matters in which you dispute.

So...instead of endless discussions and useless invitations---be the Christ(pbuh) and let him lead the way......

tgshaw said...

I understood Brother Charles's post to refer to how he as a Catholic could look at Islam in light of his own beliefs, not to how to convert or convince people of other religions to become Catholic - that's a completely different issue. In the latter case, of course, you're dealing with people who see their own religion as holding more truth - or else they'd be Catholic. So simply offering them the fullness of grace and truth isn't going to get anywhere - they don't think we have it to offer. A lot of them don't think *we* can be saved.

As far as our faith as Catholics, I'd hope that there isn't any question that people of other religions can have a relationship with God and can get to heaven. That has to do with God's mercy and justice, which I don't care to put limits on.

Finally, regarding the teaching of Pius X, there's a lot of difference between "more vivid" and "more true." There's also a lot of difference between saying one religion is as good as another and saying that God's grace can reach people through other religions, which is what the Council is saying.

Christopher said...

Wow! It appears that my post is the one drawing all the fire. I attempted to reply to the two posts that I thought were directed to me in one post but it wouldn't fit. Too wordy again!

@ Anon #1 (1:48 am post). I did not fail to consider Hinduism, Judaism, or Buddhism; I was just trying to stay within the bounds of the discussion on Catholicism and Islam. I never said that I think they (or Muslims) could not or would not be saved; however, IF I did say it I wouldn’t be offering it as solely my “opinion.” There are biblical verses such as: “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born anew, he cannot see the kingdom of God” (Jn 3:3) and “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God” (Jn 3:5) and “ Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you; he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day” (Jn 6:53-54) and “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you….” (Mt 28:19). Sure, I could explain them away or say how they are metaphors for something else, but if I did that, then I would truly be offering my opinion.

Your quotation from the Qur’an sounds very pluralistic. Strive for virtue and learn to cooperate with one another because God has not willed us to be a single people. I’m not an Islamic scholar by any means, but I’m wondering how that verse squares with others like Qur’an 9:122 “O ye who believe! Fight those of the disbelievers who are near to you, and let them find harshness in you, and know that Allah is with those who keep their duty (unto Him)” or Qur’an 9:4 “Then, when the sacred months have passed, slay the idolaters wherever ye find them, and take them (captive), and besiege them, and prepare for them each ambush. But if they repent and establish worship and pay the poor-due, then leave their way free.”

It would seem the wording in both texts we consider to be inspired have some strong requirements for proselytizing. Therefore I don’t believe either of us would consider an invitation to another as “useless.” I really do like your “be the Christ” sentiment and the focus on “showing the truth.” It reminded me of Paul reminder in Romans 13:14 to “Put on the Lord Jesus Christ…”

Christopher said...

@tgshaw. I apologize to Fr. Charles and to others on the thread if I have “hijacked” it and taken it to another place. I could host this party on my blog if Fr. Charles prefers.

However, until the good Father directs me otherwise, I’ll reply to your post. I would agree completely that other people view their religion as holding more truth. What is our response to that if we say that Catholics are in possession of the fullness of truth and grace? If offering that “isn’t going to get anywhere,” what will? Do Catholics even have an obligation to offer anything? I think Lumen Gentium can, at least, provide the answer to that last question: “Upon all the laity, therefore, rests the noble duty of working to extend the divine plan of salvation to all men of each epoch and in every land. Consequently, may every opportunity be given them so that, according to their abilities and the needs of the times, they may zealously participate in the saving work of the Church” (LG 33).

Whoa! “Noble duty!” Sounds like we got some work to do. I don’t think (and this is my opinion) that the duty entrusted to us to “extend the divine plan of salvation” should include a “good enough” policy whereby we simply sit back and trust that God’s mercy and justice will work it all out. I don’t make any presumptions about the limits of God’s mercy and justice and I do not question his ability/willingness/desire to bring all people into a relationship with him and to heaven. I also agree with you that the Council is saying that God’s grace can reach people through other religions. But what I’m asking is, we have the scriptures, which are pretty clear on what is required for salvation and the necessity of evangelization (see scripture references in my post to Anon), plus we have the Church documents, which state the Church is in possession of the fullness of truth and grace. Do we boldly proclaim that what Catholicism offers is the ultimate – the FULLNESS of truth and grace? In doing that, we are going to have to say that others are wrong or deficient (Council’s word) since two beliefs that contradict each other cannot simultaneously be true. Are we willing to say “Yes, I understand you are a devout __________, but I want you to know God in his fullness and you can only do that by being a Catholic.” That is really an uncomfortable thing to say; are we willing to do that? If not, then are we really concerned about souls?

kat said...

My apologies if I have misunderstood or offended....Your verses Jn 3.3, 3.5 and mt 28:19 could be interpreted in light of the Quran verse to mean that Jesus Christ(pbuh) is asking that his followers abandon their previous egoism, and be born anew as servants of God and teach others through doing God's will in their actions---which would also fit in with his saying "he is the way"....
Religion is meant to inspire people to transform themselves for the better so that they become worthy agents to carry out God's will----This transformative power was what Jesus Christ (pbuh) tried to bring to the world.(IMHO)

Thankyou for your Qurstions about the Quran as there are many misunderstanding about Islam. Verse 9:123---1st, in the Quran, the people of the book (and other monotheists)are among the believers, 2nd the Arabic word for "disbeliever"--Kaffir---means "one who covers up" and the root word has the meaning of ungrateful--so the whole meaning is "one who covers up the truth because he is ungrateful"---which implies that the person knows the truth and is intentionally covering up.3rd Verses of the Quran are best understood with a "Tafsir" that clarifies the historical context, syntax, and deeper meanings (Tafsir of Mohammed Asad is available for free on the internet)In this case, when the Meccans attacked the Muslim community in Medina, the muslims were reluctant to fight---after all, they were Meccans themselves and would be fighting members of their tribe and/or family. However, the Quran says that oppression is worse than murder and though the Muslims may find fighting unpleasant, they must defend Justice and freedom from oppression. (Surah 2 also has this theme).In this particular verse, the Quran is asking the Muslims not to waver in their focus.
verse 9:5---If you read the Quran from verses 1 onwards, you will find that these verses are talking about peace treaties (see treaty of Hudaibiya)---when peace treaties are made, these must be kept, but if the other side breaks the treaty then the Muslims can give 4 months notice to allow the other side to follow treaty obligations, before the peace treaty is nullified. This would carry on the pre-Islamic custom where in 4 sacred months, voilence was not allowed in the vicinity of Mecca because it was a time of pilgrimage. (I use the Yusuf Ali translation with tafsir so verse numbers differ)