Sunday, November 23, 2008

Light of Nations (Part Five)

V. The Light Shines Forth: Nostra Aetate

Come, brothers, here is the Church; we have striven to remain faithful to her.” ~Pope John XIII

We have been examining the Second Vatican Council and its documents to see if the remarks of an eponymous e-apologist of unknown age, education or religious background (he has stated he is Reformed and Presbyterian but will not state which denomination) going by the nom de guerre TurretinFan, accurately reflect what the post Second Vatican Council Catholic Church teaches in regards to the salvation of Muslims and other non-Christians. He wrote:
“Question for my readers who follow Vatican 2's proclamation that "the plan of salvation includes" Muslims: “Can you see from the example above that zealously following Islam leads to eternal destruction?” and “If so, how do you justify to yourself your church's claim?” and “Can you not admit that your church has erred on this point?”

The example to which he was referring was a story about how a zealous Muslim adherent, upon learning that his daughter had become a Christian, cut out her tongue, then proceeded to “debate” her over the superiority of Islam over Christianity and when she could not respond (because he had cut out her tongue) slew her. According to the best and plainest sense of Turretinfan’s words above is that the post-Vatican II Catholic Church somehow teaches that acts of parricide when practiced by faithful Muslims are salvific and a part of God’s plan of salvation.

In the Fourth chapter of the "Light of Nations" series I have been writing here, we examined what Lumen Gentium actually states about God’s plan of salvation and how the Church views the Christian truths that one may find in Islam and other non-Christian religions and how they serve as a means of preparation of souls to receive the Gospel of Jesus Christ. After actually reviewing the actual document, it becomes painfully clear that the anonymous Turretinfan of doubtful age, religious temperament, and scholarship has probably never read Lumen Gentium in its entirety, but is more likely parroting what some other anti-Catholic writer, probably similarly lacking in temperament and scholarship, has opined in the past about Lumen Gentium. In fact, based on his recent invective against Pope Benedict XVI’s comments referencing the Supplica of the Blessed Bartolo Longo that one may read on his blog, it is doubtful that Turretinfan has the intellectual honesty or spiritual discernment necessary to seriously study or understand in a scholarly and objective way any magisterial Catholic document much like the scribes and the majority of Pharisees who could not understand the teachings of Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, at least not without much intercessory prayer that God will give him the actual grace to do so.

No matter. This post is not about Turretinfan, his apparent educational shortcomings, or his habit of pharisaic mimicry. His erroneous statements about Lumen Gentium merely provide a vehicle for this lay apologist to set before the reader what the Catholic Church actually teaches concerning Islam from the documents of Vatican II and other post-conciliar magisterial writings. For the time being, we will continue to look at how the other documents of Vatican II pertinent to the issue at hand further demonstrate the fact that Turretinfan does not know what he is talking about when it comes to what the Catholic Church teaches pertaining to non-Christians finding salvation.

We will next examine the “Declaration on the Relation of the Church to Non-Christian Religions" also known as Nostra Aetate because it is the only other document of the Second Vatican Council which explicitly references Muslims and their faith.

“1. In our time, when day by day mankind is being drawn closer together, and the ties between different peoples are becoming stronger, the Church examines more closely her relationship to non-Christian religions. In her task of promoting unity and love among men, indeed among nations, she considers above all in this declaration what men have in common and what draws them to fellowship.

One is the community of all peoples, one their origin, for God made the whole human race to live over the face of the earth. (Acts 17:26) One also is their final goal, God. His providence, His manifestations of goodness, His saving design extend to all men,(Wis. 8:1; Acts 14:17; Rom. 2:6-7; 1 Tim. 2:4 2) until that time when the elect will be united in the Holy City, the city ablaze with the glory of God, where the nations will walk in His light. (Apoc. 21:23f)”

“Men expect from the various religions answers to the unsolved riddles of the human condition, which today, even as in former times, deeply stir the hearts of men: What is man? What is the meaning, the aim of our life? What is moral good, what sin? Whence suffering and what purpose does it serve? Which is the road to true happiness? What are death, judgment and retribution after death? What, finally, is that ultimate inexpressible mystery which encompasses our existence: whence do we come, and where are we going?”

“2. From ancient times down to the present, there is found among various peoples a certain perception of that hidden power which hovers over the course of things and over the events of human history; at times some indeed have come to the recognition of a Supreme Being, or even of a Father. This perception and recognition penetrates their lives with a profound religious sense.

Religions, however, that are bound up with an advanced culture have struggled to answer the same questions by means of more refined concepts and a more developed language. Thus in Hinduism, men contemplate the divine mystery and express it through an inexhaustible abundance of myths and through searching philosophical inquiry. They seek freedom from the anguish of our human condition either through ascetical practices or profound meditation or a flight to God with love and trust. Again, Buddhism, in its various forms, realizes the radical insufficiency of this changeable world; it teaches a way by which men, in a devout and confident spirit, may be able either to acquire the state of perfect liberation, or attain, by their own efforts or through higher help, supreme illumination. Likewise, other religions found everywhere try to counter the restlessness of the human heart, each in its own manner, by proposing "ways," comprising teachings, rules of life, and sacred rites. The Catholic Church rejects nothing that is true and holy in these religions. She regards with sincere reverence those ways of conduct and of life, those precepts and teachings which, though differing in many aspects from the ones she holds and sets forth, nonetheless often reflect a ray of that Truth which enlightens all men. Indeed, she proclaims, and ever must proclaim Christ "the way, the truth, and the life" (John 14:6), in whom men may find the fullness of religious life, in whom God has reconciled all things to Himself. (2 Cor. 5:18-19).

The Church, therefore, exhorts her sons, that through dialogue and collaboration with the followers of other religions, carried out with prudence and love and in witness to the Christian faith and life, they recognize, preserve and promote the good things, spiritual and moral, as well as the socio-cultural values found among these men. (Emphasis Added)”

As seen by this first portion of the Nostra Aetate, the Vatican II fathers intend to continue to build upon truths which we have already examined in Lumen Gentium. I would note that many drafts of Nostra Aetate were written before the Council fathers put the version I am quoting from to a vote. The problem was that this document addressed one of the most contentious issues of the Council; that is, how should the Catholic Church should view the spiritual, moral and cultural values of non-Christian religions? Some of the fathers were concerned that the statements contained in this document may be misunderstood and suggest to outsiders that the Catholic Church was beginning to advocate indifferentism (another word for what Turretinfan and other Protestants may call Pluralism).

However, from what this humble lay apologist is able to discern from the above text is that while the Church considers all religions as expressions of the human search for truth, it is only to the extent that they reflect of the truth found in the Gospel of Jesus Christ and His Church do they succeed. There is nothing here that suggests that adherents to other religions find truth in their quest for God sufficiently to be saved. In fact, there is nothing thus far in the text that suggests that these other religions hold any independent revelation whatsoever outside of the revelations God has chosen to reveal through the Jewish faith in the Old Testament or the Christian faith. To use an analogy, the fact that good and truth may be found in these other religions is merely one way that God prepares the fields that are men’s souls to receive the seed of His grace which is to be sowed by the Church through evangelization, collaboration, dialogue and missions.

Now let us see what the Council fathers say about Islam itself:

3. The Church regards with esteem also the Moslems. They adore the one God, living and subsisting in Himself; merciful and all- powerful, the Creator of heaven and earth, [Endnote Nineteen] who has spoken to men; they take pains to submit wholeheartedly to even His inscrutable decrees, just as Abraham, with whom the faith of Islam takes pleasure in linking itself, submitted to God. Though they do not acknowledge Jesus as God, they revere Him as a prophet. They also honor Mary, His virgin Mother; at times they even call on her with devotion. In addition, they await the day of judgment when God will render their deserts to all those who have been raised up from the dead. Finally, they value the moral life and worship God especially through prayer, almsgiving and fasting.

Since in the course of centuries not a few quarrels and hostilities have arisen between Christians and Moslems, this sacred synod urges all to forget the past and to work sincerely for mutual understanding and to preserve as well as to promote together for the benefit of all mankind social justice and moral welfare, as well as peace and freedom.”

Unlike Lumen Gentium, this passage from Nostra Aetate does explicitly acknowledge that Muslims and Christians worship the same God. [Endnote Twenty-one] Further, this passage expresses an outline of the truths one may find in Islam that are present in Christianity as well.

More telling, however, is what the Council fathers do not mention. There is no mention of Mohammed nor of the Koran here. There is an allusion to some of the pillars of Islam but nothing that indicates that adherence to them is beneficial. There is nothing that suggests that anything about Islam is salvific or that Muslims who adhere to their religions will go to heaven or escape eternal torment for following their heretical beliefs. Most certainly is nothing here that would suggest that acts of parricide carried out by Muslim parents against their apostate children is a part of God’s plan of salvation as Turretinfan would have one believe.

In short, using the “plain and best reading” standard Turretinfan suggests that one should use in reading Vatican II documents does not support his contentions. To be blunt, as stated at Nostra Aetate 4, the Catholic Church has always held and still holds now and proclaims that “Christ underwent His passion and death freely, because of the sins of men and out of infinite love, in order that all may reach salvation. It is, therefore, the burden of the Church's preaching to proclaim the cross of Christ as the sign of God's all-embracing love and as the fountain from which every grace flows.” 'Nuff said for now.

Next in this series, we will finally conclude our review of Vatican II documents and start looking at some post-Vatican II Magisterial documents as well as look at what different Protestants denominations teach about Islam. Thank you for your continued patience kind reader!


Endnote Nineteen. In the original text, Footnote #5 refers to: Gregory VII, Letter XXI to Anzir (Nacir), King of Mauritania (Pl. 148, col. 450f.). Many of the papers which examine the question of the relationship between Christianity and Islam cite the following passage from this letter:

“God, the Creator of all, without whom we cannot do or even think anything that is good, has inspired to your heart this act of kindness. He who enlightens all men coming into this world (John 1.9) has enlightened your mind for this purpose. Almighty God, who desires all men to be saved (1 Timothy 2.4) and none to perish is well pleased to approve in us most of all that besides loving God men love other men, and do not do to others anything they do not want to be done unto themselves (cf. Mt. 7.14). We and you must show in a special way to the other nations an example of this charity, for we believe and confess one God, although in different ways, and praise and worship Him daily as the creator of all ages and the ruler of this world. For as the apostle says: "He is our peace who has made us both one." (Eph. 2.14) Many among the Roman nobility, informed by us of this grace granted to you by God, greatly admire and praise your goodness and virtues... God knows that we love you purely for His honour and that we desire your salvation and glory, both in the present and in the future life. And we pray in our hearts and with our lips that God may lead you to the abode of happiness, to the bosom of the holy patriarch Abraham, after long years of life here on earth.” See, Gregory VII, "Letter to Anzir, King of Mauritania," in Jacques Dupuis, The Christian Faith in the Doctrinal Documents of the Catholic Church, 7th ed., (New York: Alba House, 2001), 418-419.

Endnote Twenty. I saw the recent posting of Turretinfan on both his blog and on the website of his master, Professor James White, still making a fuss that the Catholic Church teaches that Muslims and Jews worship the same God as Christians do. In passing, I must wonder that if Turretinfan does not worship the same God as Muslims and Jews, are we to surmize that Jesus' words found at Mt. 22:32 are erroneous? Is he suggesting that Christians do not worship the God of Abraham? Or do we in actuality worship the same unknown God as pagan Greeks did, a fact seized upon by Saint Paul to preach as shown Acts which I referenced in my last posting.

There is a distinct difference between heresy and paganism. As I pointed out in my last posting, Muslims and Jews both claim to worship the same God as we do, the God of Abraham. Thus, they can not be characterized as pagans since the God of Abraham is not a pagan god. See, Mt. 22:32.

However, the label of heretic fits since Jews and Muslims, and for that matter, quite a few Protestant denominations, do not believe in a co-equal, triune God, and otherwise espouse erroneous notions about the characteristics, nature, and personhood of God by denying that Jesus is the Son of God, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, that He was incarnated as a human being to rescue us from sin, that without Jesus’ redemptive work through His death and resurrection on the Cross, we would still be dead in sin and facing an eternity in hell.

Turretinfan's emphasis is misplaced. It is not that Muslims do not worship the same God as Christians because they do not recognize Jesus as the Second Person of the Holy Trinity. Rather, since they do not recognize Jesus as the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, nor for that matter, the place of the Holy Spirit as the completion of the Triune God, it would be better said and much more accurate to say that Muslims are seriously heretical in their understanding of God and His nature since they claim to worship the same God we Christians do.

The fact that Turretinfan apparently can not recognize the difference between paganism and heresy suggests the reason why he can not understand the difference between a Catholic's veneration of saints and the worship reserved for God alone. More on this when I am done with writing this series.


ISCZ said...

The word "heresy" technically refers to a teaching that reflects a denial of central Christian teaching BY A CHRISTIAN. Your narrow view of Protestants might fit this description, but not Judaism and Islam which represent separate faith expressions. Using the word the way you are using it here gives it a meaning that it was never intended to have. Certainly Muslims and Jews (I'm Protestant myself. I would challenge your belief that Protestants deny the Trinity in the same way I challenge Protestants who say that Catholics worship Mary as a god. Let's at least try to understand each other.) reject the Trinity. But so do Hindus and Buddhists and atheists and animists, etc. Yet we would not use the word "heretic" for all non-Christians. That's nonsensical. No thinking Christian I know has ever used the term "heretic" for Jews. Nor should they. They have for Muslims, but that was more out of ignorance born from polemic than a proper use of the term.

As for what these two documents you cite are saying, you need look no further than the theology of Karl Rahner to understand it. Neither goes quite as far as he did, but the philosophical basis is the same - there are seeds of truth found in other religions that are there because the Word and Spirit are grace-fully operating not only in the world in general, but in other religions, as well. But, as you rightly point out, these seeds are reflective of the truth that is found in Christ alone. Rahner in this sense would never use the word "heretic" to describe Muslims and Jews. Rather he would speak of people within these faith communities who are able to commune with God through the truth that is present among them even though it is a pale reflection of the Truth that is found in Christ.

You need to be more careful with your language.

ISCZ said...

Thank you for your gracious response, Paul. I do need to let you know, however, that I am a PhD student studying the history of Christian-Muslim relations (as well as someone who worked as a missionary in the Middle East for a dozen years), so I am well aware of the work of St. John of Damascus as well as the whole body of work from that era which cast Islam in heretical terms. I am also aware, however, that the way we have read Islam has always been through a polemical lens colored less by a study of the faith as it is than by attempts to fit it into a system of Christian theology that needs to "explain" other faiths.

John is actually one of the better interpreters of that era, at least making an attempt to understand Islam on its own terms. But the level of his understanding was fairly shallow, even though he was well versed in the culture as he was from a prominent Damascean family and served in the court of the emir.

If you wish to explore this further I would recommend Saracens by John Toland, which is a careful and well thought-out study of this whole era. This is required reading for anyone interested in learning how Christians have framed their response to Islam over the years.

The point here is that simply reading "authorities" on such subjects from the past does not guarantee a fair reading of other faiths. You need to understand the context within which these works have been written.


Paul Hoffer said...

Hello ISCZ, you are right. I should be more careful with my language especially when I am using a word that has multiple definitions. I sometimes forget that defining terms is important as is the case here. I accept the gist of your criticism and will endeavor to correct it now.

When I refer to heresy, I am referring to the more expansive sense of the word as reflected in the writings of the Early Church Fathers or what I would call a more traditional Catholic sense of the word as opposed to the post-Reformation slant the word has taken on; that is, a movement of baptized Christians denying a part of the Christian faith, to which you are referring.

As for your comments about Rahner, while I do have a couple of his works in my personal library, I must confess that I have only perused them as opposed to studying them. Thus, I am not as familiar with Rahner as I am with the writings of St. Hippolytus of Rome and St. Epiphanius of Salamis, who both recognized Judaism as a "heresy" because of its adherents' refusal to accept the truth of Christ's teachings or belonging to His Church. I would refer you to Book IX of St. Hippolytus' "Refutation of All Heresies" wherein he discusses the various forms that the Jewish heresies took. I would also refer you to St. Epiphanius' Panarion Chapters XIII-XX.

Concerning Islam, perhaps you might want to read some of St. John Damascene's works and Hilaire Belloc's, "The Great Heresies". These writings will offer you a different perspective of Islam than perhaps you are accustomed. In my mind, Islam is the most pernicious heresy there is. The fact that it is a heresy as opposed to an altogether different actual religion makes it all the more dangerous in my mind to those of us who embrace the truth of Christ's teachings.

Both Jews and Muslims profess to worship the God of Abraham as we do. The fact that they are not Christians, that is, they do not accept and hold to the doctrines the God of Abraham has revealed through His Son and by the working of the Holy Spirit in the Church, makes them heretics.

As far as Protestants go, I realize that I was painting with a broad brush as most Protestants are certainly trinitarians (although I would argue that some of the more-hyper Calvinist groups in my mind do show some docetic or Manicheistic tendencies), but the definition of Protestant I was taught as a child is any Christian who belongs to a sect or denomination that descended from those that seceded from the Catholic Church at the time of the Reformation. That definition would include Unitarians, Christadelphians, Jehovah Witnesses, United Church of God, certain groups of Pentacostalists, and other "Christian" restorationist groups, since arguably, they all are descended from the original sects that broke off from the Church during the Reformation. With that being said, certainly, Anglicans, Methodists, Presbyterians, Baptists, etc., the main-stream forms of Protestantism, all profess trinitarianism as do Catholics, as we all profess a common creed.

Gven my definition of heresy in which both Jews and Muslims are by definition heretics as they both claim to worship the same God we do, I would also suggest to you that while I may technically view main-stream Protestantism as heretical, it is certainly far less heretical than Islam or Judaism. Protestantism does recognize most of the essential truths that Catholicism teaches. Furthermore, I certainly acknowledge the truth taught in Lumen Gentium #15 that God does use many Protestant (trinitarian) sects as a means for distributing His grace. Since we profess a common creed, I much prefer the phrase, "brothers in Christ" or "separated brethren".

I apologize for having ruffled some feathers. I hope my response helps show you where I am coming from.

Also, thank you for commenting here. You are always welcome to stop by. Also, I will blow the dust off my Rahner books and try reading them from cover to cover (right now, I am reading J.B. Phillip's "Your God is Too Small" and Eugene Joly's "What is Faith?").

God Bless!

Your Brother in Christ

~Paul H.

Paul Hoffer said...

Hi ISCZ, I read your next comment after correcting my first one! Oops! I will certainly try to pick up the Toland book if it is available in one of the many libraries I frequent. Also, thank you for the RCA link. I have added it to my favorites list so I can further read up!

Also, please accept my thanks for your missionary work in the Middle East. People in this country often do not realize that there is much more work to be done in the Lord's vineyard. One of the important aspects of Vatican II and the documents I have been writing about here is the positive emphasis placed on the obligations of Christians to support missions.

Is your doctorate something you intend to use in continuing such work?

Also, when I saw that you linked to the Reformed Church in America, I was reminded about something that had crossed my mind before. The Catholic Church has entered into agreements with ELCA on the doctrines of Justification and Baptism. I had heard that the RCA had done something similar. Is the agreement the RCA has entered into with ELCA doctrinal in nature or more of an agreement to cooperate in Christian outreach and mission-related activities?

ISCZ said...

We are in full communion with the ELCA. I am, in fact, getting my doctorate at an ELCA institution (while taking most of my missiology courses at CTU - the Catholic Theological Union here in Chicago. Robert Schreiter is on my dissertation committee).

We entered into this agreement with the ELCA back in the late nineties after long discussions that I was not privy to at the time. My reading of this is that doctrinal issues have weakened their hold on the imagination of most mainline Protestant denominations in a way that hasn't yet happened in Catholic and certainly not Orthodox circles. My cynical self says this has more to do with the agreement than any deep reflection on the theological issues raised by such a union.

At the same time I do know that those who served on the committees that helped formulate the Formula of Agreement that moved us into a full communion status were very serious about dealing with the theological issues. So I'm also unwilling to allow my cynical self to be too dominant here.

ISCZ said...

BTW - my advisor is one of the foremost authorities on medieval Arabic Christian literature. He did his doctoral work at the Vatican.