The brutal murder of 86-year-old Father Jacques Hamel by Islamic State terrorists on July 26 is an evil beyond the comprehension of all decent and moral people. The fact that Adel Kermiche and Abdelmalik Petitjean chose to attack a priest celebrating Mass and cut his throat as he knelt at the foot of the altar takes this act into the realm of demonic evil. The archbishop of Rouen told the congregation at Father Hamel’s requiem Mass that his dying words were, “Get away from me Satan.”
The beheading of Father Hamel was clearly intended by the terrorists as a deliberate desecration of the church; after killing Father Hamel, his killers delivered a mock homily from the altar. It was at this same altar, moments before, that Father Hamel had offered up the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. Archbishop Anthony Fisher of Sydney, Australia, is clear that Father Hamel’s murder was an act of hate directed against the whole Church:
“And the terrorists underlined the meaning of their act by engaging in a ritual sacrifice of the priest before the altar and a mock homily. So their act was not just murder, but also sacrilege, desecration, blasphemy. Their motive was not just revenge for the policies of the secular French government, but hatred for the Church and its priests and religious and faithful, even when they are demonstrably friends of Muslims, as Father Jacques was.”
Anyone with knowledge of the persecution and murder of Christians by Muslims around the world knows that terrorist attacks against Christians are often accompanied by sacrilege, desecration and blasphemy. More often than not, their rage is concentrated on the cross of Our Lord. In Syria and Iraq, Islamist terrorists mock our Lord Jesus Christ’s death by crucifying Christians, and, in one incident, Islamists raped and murdered a Coptic Orthodox woman because she wore a cross.
Though many Muslims have a devotion to what the Quran says about Our Lady, some even visiting Catholic Marian shrines, other fundamentalist Muslims express their hatred for Christianity by desecrating statues of the Blessed Mother.
In 2015, five migrants attacked a Catholic man praying before a statue of Mary in the Chapel of St. Barnabas in Perugia, Italy. They proceeded to smash the statue to pieces and then urinated on it.
The purpose of these acts of Islamist hatred towards Christianity is the ultimate destruction of entire communities of the faithful. Over the past 15 years in northern Nigeria, Muslims have killed 11,500 Christians, displaced more than 1 million people from their homes and parishes and destroyed or shut down 13,000 churches.
Vehement Aversion to the Sacred
It is well-known among exorcists that one of the signs of the presence of the devil in an individual’s life is his or her violent reaction against the sacred. This can manifest itself as a vehement aversion to the Holy Trinity, the Blessed Virgin Mary, the saints, the Mass and religious images, especially the holy cross.
It is no coincidence that, throughout history, groups and individuals who hate the Church have delighted in desecrating the Blessed Sacrament and have made the Mass, the tabernacle and holy Communion the target of their malevolence. Satanists, communists, new atheists, secularists and Islamists all have one thing in common — they have all committed acts of sacrilege, desecration and blasphemy against the Blessed Sacrament.
Kermiche and Petitjean chose to attack the French priest and his parishioners during the celebration of the Mass out of hatred of Christianity. They chose to desecrate the most sacred rite of the Catholic faith. Clearly, those who focus their evil rage against the holy Eucharist, the Mass and priests know, at some level, that God is present in the Blessed Sacrament. This stirring of faith is a grace from Jesus to give them the last opportunity to turn away from their evil plots. However, if they persist, like Judas, in their desecration, they bring about their own condemnation because they have chosen to side with the devil in his hatred of Christ.
Though the Quran recognizes both Christians and Jews as “people of the book,” it also contains passages that explicitly reject fundamental Christian doctrines and call for violence against Christians, Jews and others it categorizes as ‘nonbelievers’ for not accepting the message of Muhammad. The Quran rejects both the divinity of Jesus as the Son of God and the Most Holy Trinity:
“O People of the Book! Commit no excesses in your religion or utter anything concerning Allah but the truth. The Messiah, Jesus, son of Mary, was only a messenger of Allah, his Word that he sent to Mary, and a Spirit from him [that he sent]. So believe in Allah and his messengers, and do not say ‘Three.’ Desist; it is better for you! Allah is one God. Far exalted is he above having offspring” (4.171).
The Quran also rejects that Jesus Christ died on the cross, and, therefore, they dispute Our Lord’s resurrection from the dead:
“They said, ‘We killed the Messiah, Jesus, son of Mary, the messenger of God.’ They did not kill him, nor did they crucify him, but the likeness of him was put on another man (and they killed that man)” (4.157).
One of the Islamic Hâdith, a report describing the words and actions of Muhammad, claims that when Our Lord returns at the Second Coming, Jesus will “break the cross.”
A Muslim once explained to me that Islam holds that, at his Second Coming, Jesus will explain to Christians that we have misunderstood him — that Islam is the true faith and that Jesus will give us the opportunity to accept Muhammad and Islam with him.
This explicit antagonism in the Quran towards the divine truths revealed by the words and deeds of our Lord Jesus Christ expresses itself in Muhammad’s exhortation to violence against Christians in a number of Quranic texts:
“And fight them until there is no more disbelief in Islam and the religion will all be for Allah alone …” (8:39).
“Fight against those who believe not in Allah, nor in the Last Day, nor forbid that which has been forbidden by Allah and his Messenger (and those who acknowledge not Islam as the religion of truth among the people of the Scripture, until they pay the Jizyah [religious tax] with willing submission, and feel themselves subdued” (9:29).
The Church’s approach to Islam begins with the foundational truth that our Lord Jesus Christ is God, consubstantial with the Father, and the only mediator between God and man; that he is the fulfilment of God’s revelation that ended with the death of the last apostle, and that through his passion, death on the cross and resurrection from the dead, he is the unique and only Savior of all mankind.
This means that the Catholic Church cannot accept any of the claims of Islam to surpass or correct what has been revealed by Jesus Christ: “Christian faith cannot accept ‘revelations’ that claim to surpass or correct the revelation of which Christ is the fulfillment, as is the case in certain non-Christian religions” (Catechism, 67).
Having established that the Church cannot accept what is erroneous in Islam, she does acknowledge that there are semina Verbi (seeds of the Word) present in all religions. The phrase “seeds of the Word,” is a very ancient Catholic term, coined by St. Justin Martyr around A.D. 150. He wrote about semina Verbi existing in Greek philosophy, but he never applied the term to non-Christian religions. The important thing to realize is that the term semina Verbi emphasizes the universal primacy of Jesus Christ’s activity and presence, through the Holy Spirit, in all human cultures and religions.
The Second Vatican Council extended Justin Martyr’s use of the phrase semina Verbi to include non-Christian religions. In Ad Gentes, the declaration on missionary activity, the Council calls on missionaries to gently and reverently uncover the “seeds of the Word” hidden in national religions and traditions (11). This suggests that Vatican II recognized that genuine semina Verbi were often hidden among erroneous ideas and expressions that have nothing to do with the truth of Christ. Lumen Gentium, the dogmatic constitution of the Church, calls on all the baptized to save non-Christians from the “slavery of error and of idols and incorporate[s] them in Christ.” Through our missionary apostolate, we save, cleanse and raise up the seeds of goodness within other religions:
“Through her 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” (17).
It is as a consequence of the presence of these semina Verbi in Islam, due to its origin in God’s revelation to Abraham, that the Catholic Church can “recognize, preserve and promote the good things” that exist among many Muslims (Nostra Aetate, 2). The presence of the seeds of the Word of Christ in Islam means that it is within God’s plan of salvation, but it is not another way of salvation alongside Christianity. Moreover, the Second Vatican Council never intended that the Church accept, or remain silent in the face of, what is patently erroneous and immoral in Islam.
A number of genuinely peace-loving Muslims in Europe condemned the attack on the Normandy church and the murder of Father Hamel. Of the population of 5 million Muslims in France, a couple of hundred attended Mass in Rouen, Paris, Bordeaux and other French towns to show solidarity with Catholics against the violence of the Islamic State. A group of Muslims even gathered at the parish church were Father Hamel was murdered and unfurled a banner that read, “Love for all. Hate for none.” They were Ahmadiyya Muslims, a minority sect who, unlike the majority of Muslims, do not hold that Muhammad is the final prophet.
More significantly, Muslims in the town that witnessed Father Hamel’s murder refused to bury one of the killers because they considered his actions sinful. They were also concerned that being associated with his burial would taint Islam.
During the week after Father Hamel’s murder, I had a discussion, via social media, with a Muslim from Pakistan who wanted to express his condemnation of the attack against our Church. He wanted to reassure me that Islam is not a religion of violence and posed no threat to Christians. However, when we widened the exchange to discuss Islam’s attitude to violence, he insisted that it was obligatory to use violence against Muslims who converted to Christianity because it was commanded by Muhammad.
It is this belief that Muhammad commands violence against apostate Muslims, and nonbelievers in certain circumstances, that is an unavoidable truth, if we are honest. And it is only honesty that will enable us to have a genuine conversation with Islam.
Deacon Nick Donnelly is a contributor to EWTN Radio’s Celtic Connections program.
He has written the Catholic Truth Society booklet, “Who Is the Devil? What Pope Francis Says.”
This article originally appeared in the Catholic Voice newspaper
and is republished here with permission. It has been edited for style.