Sunday, 13 July 2014

Do Roman Catholics and Muslims Worship the Same God? Does It Matter?

Pope Francis hosts an inter-faith prayer meeting for peace between Israel and Palestinians in the (consecrated?) grounds of the Vatican, 8th June, 2014. Representatives of Judaism, Islam and Roman Catholicism participated.
Do Roman Catholics and Muslims worship the same God? 

Apparently so, according to the official Catechism of the Catholic Church (1992): 

841 The Church's relationship with the Muslims. "The plan of salvation also includes those who acknowledge the Creator, in the first place amongst whom are the Muslims; these profess to hold the faith of Abraham, and together with us they adore the one, merciful God, mankind's judge on the last day." [italics mine].
The catechism is quoting the Vatican II document, Lumen Gentium (Dogmatic Constitution on the Church; LG 16). While the authority of the Catechism has been the subject of some debate among Catholics, with even some bishops averring that it mixes theological opinion alongside authoritative doctrine, the doctrine taught by a Council in communion with the Pope is infallible and calls for the full assent of faith from the loyal Catholic. Therefore, one must conclude that the Roman Catholic Magisterium teaches its adherents that they and Muslims do adore (i.e. worship) "the one merciful God, mankind's judge on the last day." 

Having answered our first question in the affirmative (according to the Roman Catholic understanding, that is), we now move on to our second question: Does it matter? 

Yes, it does. 

Firstly, Roman Catholic teaching on this subject misrepresents the teaching of the Quran, but that does not concern us nearly as much as how this misrepresentation impinges upon the Christian doctrinal of God: Allah is not "the one merciful God who will be mankind's judge on the last day". To make this assertion is to veil with error the light of the Gospel which God has given to the church as the means to salvation for all people. 

The first error in the assertion that Catholics and Muslims adore the same merciful God who will be our judge on the last day is that it misrepresents Islamic doctrine. This misrepresentation is no doubt prompted by the overly optimistic view that since Judaism, Christianity and Islam are historically the three so-called "Abrahamic faiths" they share the same basic conception of God as Father and Creator. This position is intellectually lazy and religiously dissembling in that, presumably for the sake of cultivating good relations with Muslims, it feigns agnosticism in regard to the question posed by the advent of Jesus, "Who do people say the Son of Man is?" (Matthew 16:13-16), the proper answer to which leads to the confession of the divinity of the man Jesus Christ, "the way, the truth and the life" through whom alone is God the Father known (John 14:6). In fact, in accordance with the teaching of the Quran, Muslims disavow the view that Allah is to be identified with any Person of the Holy Trinity and while they acknowledge Jesus to be a prophet and messiah of the Jews they deny the Godhood of the One whom Christians confess will be our judge on the last day (when Isa returns, according to Islam, one of his duties will be to correct the errors of Christians!). The Quran declares such assertions as the Roman Magisterium makes to be blasphemous and disbelieving:

 "They do blaspheme who say: Allah is one of three in a Trinity: for there is no god except One Allah. If they desist not from their blasphemy, truly a grievous penalty will befall the blasphemers among them" (Quran 5:73)  
"They indeed have disbelieved who say: Lo! Allah is the Messiah, son of Mary. (Quran 5:17)     
The second and more serious error in the assertion that Catholics and Muslims adore the same merciful God who will judge us on the last day is a misrepresentation of the Christian doctrine of God. The Christian God is a communion of three Persons whose nature is Love, who, in the Person of the Son, condescended to take on human flesh in order to redeem fallen humankind from the powers of sin, death and the devil, graciously leading us back into the Divine communion of love. The Allah of the Muslims is al-Jabaar, the supreme potentate of the universe who commands that all creatures submit to his will, even at the point of the sword. To identify these two theologies does not give glory to God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit but leads to the syncretism of multi-faith services. 

Why does Roman Catholicism so glibly fall into the error of identifying Allah with God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit?

Comments welcome. Part II to follow, D.v..   


Robertus said...

I think you're missing the point of that statement. Even if Muslims believe certain falsehoods about God, that does not mean that they do not worship the one God in any sense, even if it must be qualified. Even St. Paul was able to say the pagans of Athens, "What therefore you worship, without knowing it, that I preach to you."

Imagine for example that you have a close friend named John, who is married, has a son and works as a lawyer. I see John by hismelf one day on the street in casual dress and with stubble on his face. I arrive at the false conclusion that John is unmarried, wihtout children and a bum. If I speak what I think I know about John to someone else, does this mean that I am not really speaking about John at all since I believe mistakenly, or that I am speaking about John but I am speaking about him mistakenly? I think, for the same reasons, it is reasonable in ordinary speech to say that Muslims "adore the one, merciful God."

Now definitely, it would have to be qualified that Muslims adoration of God is defective and, therefore, they do not adore God in the most proper sense. However, if we are being pedantic, I think the Catholic theologian would also say that Lutherans as a rule do not have faith or adore God in the strictest sense either.

Acroamaticus said...

Goodness, Robertus - Muslims worship the true God but Lutherans do not? That's quite a statement, and one that is easliy refuted: the Quran explicitly rejects the Trinity, but the first statements of belief in the Lutheran Book of Concord are the Apostles, Nicene and Athanasian creeds.

Paul's statement in the Areopagus is not germane to your criticism, in that his point was to use the inscription to the unknown God as a point of contact to educate the Athenians about the nature of the true God. Paul no doubt regarded the unknown God as a dim perception of the creator God whose mystery the Greeks respected by not naming Him. But he did not, say to them "What you worship as Zeus is actually my God; let's all pray together then". Paul would have recoiled at the suggestion as idolatry of the highest order.

Lastly, the god of Islam is not unknown: his name is Allah, his final prophet is Mohammed and his attributes are listed in the Quran. You're drawing a long bow with your comparison with the unknown God of the Greeks.

But thank you for your comment, Robertus. I'll post and respond to your other comments later today.

Robertus said...

I think you ought to reread what I first wrote since you are gravely misrepresenting my words. I did not say that Muslims adore the true God with us Catholics but Lutherans do not. What I first said was that Muslims can be reasonably said to adore God according to ordinary speech, even if they are ignorant about God in many respects and their worship is defective and, therefore, not true adoration. What I then said was that if you were going to be a real pedant, you would probably also have to say that Lutherans as a rule also (i.e. along with Muslims) do not truly worship God. St. Thomas Aquinas addresses question in the Summa Theologica whether heretics who deny one point of faith can have faith at all, the answer being negative. Of course, that does not necessarily apply to each individual Lutheran (or Muslim for that matter), which is why I said, "as a rule."

The big question you will have to answer is, since we all lack perfect understanding of God here on earth, seeing only through a glass darkly, at what degree of ignorance of God does a person cease to be able to refer to God at all? Even though Muslims are greatly ignorant of God, for the reasons you mention and others, they would acknowledge very much in common with Christians about the nature of God: his omnipotence, simplicity, omniscnence etc. The fundamental point seems to me the fact that they do admit the existence of God, which Scripture states should be evident to all from creation, and what they do seek after is clearly God rather than something else. There is only one God so their statements about God, must refer to the one God, even if mistaken, rather than another. This seems to be more or less St. Paul's thought process toward the Athenians, which allows him to say without duplicity that they (ignorantly) worship the God of Abraham. That is really the primary issue I am interested in, not whether we should hold hands and have joint prayer services.

Would you say that an Eastern Orthodox Christian worships the same God you do. Many of them would say that you hold to a fundamental error about the nature of God since you believe in the Filioque. Take them at their word that you do have radically different views about the Trinity. Does this mean that they don't believe in the same God you do? Or would you rather say that you do believe in the same God because even though they are mistaken on that point? Or is this simply "adiaphora" and on what basis can you make that judgment? If you are going to convincingly make the assertion that one can in no way state that Muslims worship God, you are going to have to make a more convincing argument than saying that Muslims reject certain propositions about him. What exactly is the criterion that separates those who do believe in God from those who don't?

I think your assertion that the Athenians believed in God but Muslims don't is absurd because your basis for that claim is that the Athenians labored under a professed lack of knowledge whereas Muslims believe they know correctly but in fact believe false things. By your implied line of argument, agnostics would believe in God but Muslims would not. And of course, this is setting aside the fact that Athenians undoubtedly believed false propositions about God. So explain what you think is the bare minimum in order to believe in and worship God. Would you consider someone like William Lane Craig, who rejects fundamental tenets of orthodox theism (e.g. divine simplicity), to believe in God?

Acroamaticus said...

I "gravely misrepresented" your words, Robertus? You clearly said Muslims cannot be said not to worship the true God but many Catholic theologians would say Lutherans do not worship the true God.

Of course Eastern Orthodox worship the same God as Lutherans, viz. the Holy Trinity. I don't know of many, or indeed any, mainstream EO theologians who would say the filioque means we worship a different God. Most that I have read believe the filioque could be resolved through a hypothetical general council revising the creed to "who proceeds from the Father through the Son". I believe Lutherans would be prepared to accept that.

You seem to have missed the main point of my post, which was that the God we worship must be properly identified according to his self-revelation as Holy Trinity.

Acroamaticus said...

"The big question you will have to answer is, since we all lack perfect understanding of God here on earth, seeing only through a glass darkly, at what degree of ignorance of God does a person cease to be able to refer to God at all?"

That doesn't concern me at all, Robertus - it is not my question to asnwer, I simply refer you to our Lord's words from John 14 I cited in my post; my concern is therefore to see the Gospel concerning Jesus Christ proclaimed throughout the whole world.

Steve Martin said...

Catholics (a great many of them) seem to worship the Church more than the Living God.

Muslims,( in my opinion) are unwittingly worshipping the devil.

Lutherans, many of them, have the best understanding of the power of sin, and therefore worship the Living God who died for the ungodly.

joel in ga said...

It seems to me that Muslims seek to honor the Creator of all things and not something else. This is consistent with Romans 1, which teaches that all men have a rudimentary knowledge of God, even if that knowledge does not include His Trinitarian nature.

Like the Jews who rejected the Trinity in the apostle Paul's day, Christians probably should view Muslims as having "a zeal of God, but not according to knowledge" (Romans 10:2). That would be to explain things in the kindest way possible, as the catechism teaches.

Acroamaticus said...

Thanks Joel - good to hear from you and to know you are still following the blog. Yes, there is an element of natural revelation in Islam, and also, of course, borrowings from the Bible. This places Islam in a rather unique position. Nevertheless, the general revelation was perverted among the inhabitants of the Arabian peninsula prior to Mohammed and the borrowed element were distorted, although interestingly the borrowed monotheism and prohibition of images were emphasised to an extreme extent. However, if i take the Quran seriously, as it seeks to be taken, I cannot agree that it is correct to say Muslims worship the same God as Christians. If one could hypothesis a lost tribe of believers in a sky god one could imagine that their simple, unvarnished monotheism would easily be a point of contact for evangelism. With Islam, though, the identification of God as Allah with all that entails is already a confessional position, so to peak, taken against Christianity.

Steve Martin said...

Jesus called St. Peter, "Satan", when Peter tried to keep Jesus from going to the Cross.

I wonder what He would call Mohammed…and other muslims who deny that Jesus was crucified and was raised?

Stephen K said...

Dear Pastor Mark, I must take the side of Robertus against you here. You are mis-reading him. You are also mistaken - or so I believe - in your general proposition that a God described in a non-Trinitarian way cannot be the Trinitarian God YOU believe in.

First, as to Robertus. He is essentially saying that the object of different perceptions and different descriptions might well be one and the same, and this is because it is possible and I say usual for us to see an object under different aspects or from different perspectives. He gave you the example of a person who, on a casual day off, might appear very differently to the way he appeared in other contexts. In like manner, he suggested, the object of the Muslims’ belief - the one God - was the same as the one God believed and expressed as a Trinity by Christians. We might, he accepted, think or believe that a Unitarian concept or descriptor of God was incomplete, contrary to Scripture, mistaken, misleading, etc. etc. but that insofar as both Christians and Muslims believed that there was only ONE God, they must be talking and believing in the same object. And this makes perfect sense, because it is the common experience: the Martin Luther you believe you know may not be portrayed quite the Martin Luther I think I know or was brought up to recognise, but they are indeed one and the same person in history. My understanding of him might be quite ignorant or flawed, but there is no doubt that when you and I both speak of Martin Luther, we mean exactly the same person.

Secondly, as to description. Descriptions are expressions of our understanding but they do not constitute the independent reality. The Muslims worship the One God. So do Jews and Christians. They(we) all believe that there is only One God. Christians express God’s nature as a Trinity of Persons. The Jews and Muslims do not adopt this with different degrees of abhorrence or for different reasons. Why they don’t accept Jesus is for them. But Jesus is not a separate God, as you well believe, so for the purposes of what unites all three religions, it does not matter. Not only Catholics, but also Lutherans, worship the One God, called Yahweh, Adonai by Jews and Allah by Muslims. Indeed, may I venture to suggest that, the oneness of God being so fundamental, to suggest that Muslims refer to or worship a different (one) God is not only to be nonsensical, but is to imply that there is indeed more than one God, something I would have thought you would have never have wished to contemplate (and don’t believe you do).

Pastor Mark, if we were to rely on our own limited perceptions, beliefs and powers of imagery to define God, it would be a limited god indeed. Christians believe and use the vocabulary indicated in the New Testament; the Jews use that of the Old and the Muslims use that of the Koran. Nothing in that statement necessitates that one must regard each as equivalent in moral force, but to insist that Muslims believe in a different God begins to look like one is trying to find causes for division - when there are enough already. Catholics can be criticised, no doubt, for quite a number of attitudes or beliefs, but believing in a different one God from that of the Jews and Muslims is not one of them.

So, in answer to your headline, I would say, yes, Catholics and Muslims worship the same God (Who Am), as do Lutherans, but would, like Lutherans, speak about the nature of God in a different way, and particularly in terms of Incarnation. The only alternative is to believe that in worshipping the same one God as Muslims, Catholics do not worship the same God as Lutherans but are worshipping a daemon. Who would take such a suggestion seriously?

Acroamaticus said...

Thanks Steve & Stephen for your comments.
Stephen, I don't have time to properly consider your comments tonight; give me one or two days to reply, D.v.. I have had the second part on hold since posting this which may address your remarks, S.K. - it also addresses Robertus's comments, which were exactly what I expected from a RC. There is a fundamental difference between us, I fear.

Brent said...

Some of these comments, especially Stephen K.'s, refer to God being accessed by faith outside of the words of Scripture. But we only know God through the words relayed by the apostles and prophets.

Acroamaticus said...

Thanks Brent. Yes, even the natural knowledge of God can be perverted and the awareness of his will through conscience is darkened by the power of sin. Only through the Word - incarnate, spoken and written - are we enlightened with the true, saving knowledge of God. I hope to expand upon this in the next post this week, God willing.

Lucian said...

Do Roman Catholics and Muslims Worship the Same God? Does It Matter?

Yes. In the past, they did. Now, not so much anymore. (They both killed in His Name, so I assume, given their common M.O., that it was indeed the same Deity which they worshipped. Whether this deity is the same as the Father of Christ is a different question altogether).

Schutz said...

I will just say, as I am passing by this 'ere blog, that I'm with Robertus and Stephen on this one. But that won't surprise you. This really is an old argument.

Mind you, Robertus' point about the Filioque isn't a silly one. I have indeed encountered Eastern Orthodox who do claim that the God that the Western Christians worship (that's you and me both, you understand) is not the true God precisely because of the Filioque. That doctrine affirms as true something about the Holy Trinity which Orthodox affirm as heretical. It isn't an easy one to get over, and perhaps is remains as great a sticking point in Catholic/Orthodox dialog as the papacy. WE believe that we are saying the same thing as the Orthodox (along the lines of "differentiated consensus"! LOL!), but THEY don't.

Also, let's go one further with this. The famous "extra Calvinisticum" in relation to the doctrine of the incarnation of Jesus Christ must mean, by your argument, that Calvinists worship a different Christ to the one you do, and therefore that they are not true Christians. For that matter, we would have to say that our Coptic and Assyrian friends worship different Christ's too. Although here you will again accuse the Catholic Church of unfaithfulness, because we have more or less made our peace with both the heirs of Nestorius and the heirs of Cyril on this matter.

Lots of knots you are tying yourself in on this argument, I reckon.

Stephen K said...

Pastor Mark, I think your question whether Roman Catholics worship the same (G)od as Muslims, is somehow misconceived. The concept of God entails the one and only supreme being. Your question’s unintentional polytheist implication is irrelevant for both Catholics and Muslims because both conceive of God as unique.
No monotheist accepts that there can be any talk of “another” God, since there is only One. In fact to speak of “One” is not the same as speaking of “one”: we’re not talking about a numeric here, but a Universal. Thus, the only alternatives - if both Catholics and Muslims insist that the God they worship is God - are that (1) they worship the One God you do or (2) they are both in error because there are many gods and the god they both worship is different from the god you worship. I suggest if the One God is the object of both worships, then there can be no reproach of either.

Do the differences in the image and theology of God - as a Trinity of Persons - in Christian faith from those of Islam point to a substantive difference in the object?

I think we have to avoid making a category error. God is an ‘object’ of our theology, our relationship, and our worship only in a manner of speaking, analogically; in fact, as God, He [sic] is all-encompassing, even of our consciousness and our matter. We have a psychological sense of separateness from God, and a sense and vocabulary of ontological inferiority, but except insofar as we cannot - and do not - mean that we each are God, there is a sense, entailed by the concept of God as God, that God is us. “I AM Who AM”. We generally think we partake of this awesome AM by the very notion of our existence.

Christian faith speaks of Trinity and Incarnation and Pentecost which underpin or make sense of the ideas of Redemption and Resurrection. But these things cannot be measured, photographed or verified in any absolute sense. It is only through the eyes of Christian faith that these things hold. Once we step outside the camera obscura of that faith they effectively cease to be, which is why the believer cannot insist to others intellectually on these things as a self-evident metaphysic, but must simply act out his or her own belief in a life of loving, honesty, mercy etc in the hope of the action of the Spirit.

To my mind, the God worshipped by Roman Catholics IS the God worshipped by Muslims. It could not be otherwise, if there is only One God. Clearly they worship God differently, and speak of God differently. But I believe the way we speak about God, our systems of theology, are for our benefit, not God’s, Who both transcends anything we say and Who permeates everything that moves.

Pastor Mark, if you think the Roman Catholics worship a different God from you, or a false god, whether or not it is because they say they worship the God worshipped by Muslims, then you have to explain how it can be that there is more than one God or what it is about the Roman Catholic theology of God that vitiates it and renders it false. I always thought that what principally divided Roman Catholics and Protestants and others were questions of ecclesiology and derivative issues in sacramentology.

The fact some Muslims (like some Christians of yore) are doing dreadful things, that the Qu’ran says wrathful things (like the Old Testament), and that a Christian would naturally think that Islamic doctrine, ethics or piety are theologically wrong or incomplete, should not blind a Christian to the notion that there can only be One standing behind any image any human has ever formed or adopted of God.

Acroamaticus said...

David and Stephen.
Thanks for your comments; I'll use them as material for the long promised follow up post, D.v..

Paul said...

We're all anonymous Christians now...