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Muslims truly worship God. The Church teaches that “The plan of salvation also includes those who acknowledge the Creator, in the first place among 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”
BY MARK SHEA
Muslims truly worship God. The
Church teaches that “The plan of salvation also includes those who acknowledge
the Creator, in the first place among 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” (Catechism, No. 841).
These days, many people are inclined to be skeptical
of this as “ecumania” and indifferentism.
The problem with this view is that it is emphatically
nothing new in the Catholic tradition to see Islam as worshipping the same God
we do. Case in point, modernist indifferentist heretic Pope St. Gregory VII,
writing to the Muslim Sultan of Bougie in North Africa
“Most certainly you and we ought to love each other
more than other races of men, because we believe and confess one God, albeit in
different ways, whom each day we praise and reverence as the Creator of all
ages and the Governor of this world.”
Nor is the appeal to the sins of radical Islamists
much help in proving that the God of Islam is not the same God we worship. We
Catholics should know better. We have been told for decades that sinful Mafiosi
or anti-Semites or abusive priests somehow render Catholicism idolatrous. Sin
proves that we are sinners. It does not prove that we believe in “another god.”
So we are left with the search for a theological
argument to show that Muslims worship some other god. Typically this boils down
to citing 1 John: “No one who denies the Son has the Father” (1 John 2:23).
Now there is no question that Muslims deny many key
truths of the faith, including the Trinity and the deity of Christ — but then,
so do Jews. Yet only the most extreme reactionary dissenter would conclude from
this that these fellow monotheists worship “another god.”
So what gives?
Exclusivist Catholics seem to me to be ultimately
erring in two ways in trying to reject No. 841 of the Catechism. The first we
will discuss this week, the second next week.
The first error is called “salvation by intellectual
works.” It is the idea that God will not accept somebody who does not have all
their intellectual conceptions of God perfectly shipshape. But if this were the
case, then it would be mighty tough for any of the worthies of the Old
Testament to be saved. Abraham, Isaac and Jacob never professed faith in the
Trinity. Isaiah held no doctrine of transubstantiation. Yet we know that they
are in heaven.
Analogously, many people today, through no fault of
their own, “reject” Catholic teaching (due to who-knows-what sort of familial
and cultural baggage that keeps them from seeing Jesus as the Church sees him).
Yes, Jesus said, “He who is not with us is against
us.” But he also said, “He who is not against us is for us.” The Muslim whose
only conception of the Trinity is that Christians believe God the Father had
physical relations with the Blessed Virgin is not sinning by rejecting this
stupid notion. Indeed, he is (if he but knew it) affirming Catholic belief.
It is worth noting that the judgment in the Parable
of the Sheep and the Goats includes includes nothing about having figured out
It is all about people responding as best they can to
the light they have. Indeed, the mark of the saved sheep in that parable is
surprise. By Jesus’ account, none of his followers among the “nations” had the
slightest idea they were serving him: “Lord, when did we see you hungry and
feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? When did we see you a stranger and
welcome you, or naked and clothe you? When did we see you ill or in prison, and
This is why the counsel of the Church to those too
eager to know who is and is not saved is to remember, “We know where the Church
is. We do not know where it is not.”