Monday, November 10, 2008

Mr. Verrecchio on Islam, Nostra Ætate and the Regensburg address

Mr. Louie Verrecchio’s latest Harvesting the Fruit of Vatican II column in the Sydney Catholic Weekly was rather disappointing, dealing with Vatican II’s teaching on Islam in connection with the now-concluded First Seminar of the Catholic-Muslim Forum, but failing to dissect Islam as trenchantly as one might have hoped. Mr. Verrecchio quotes the following portion of Nostra Ætate (the Declaration on the Relation of the Church to non-Christian Religions):

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,(5) 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.

The Muslims might worship (such as they do) the one deity, but not the one God, since
Neither can we rightly say that in one God is the Trinity, but that one God is the Trinity
(my emphasis,
Dz. 278,
It is important that the Council Fathers noted that Muslims “take pains to submit wholeheartedly to even His inscrutable decrees”. Christians would agree that they must obey God’s commands regardless of whether they understand them, but the manner in which the respective commands of the Holy Trinity and of the Muslim deity are ‘inscrutable’ differ profoundly. Now the only three things that the Holy Trinity cannot do are lie, sin or die (see, for instance, the Catechism of the Council of Trent on the First Article of the Creed). Now if one uses the presently-fashionable definition of sin as ‘something that harms one’s relationship with God’, then it is tautological to say that God cannot sin. Hence St. Thomas’s definition is to be preferred: sin is an offence against reason. This was H.H. The Pope’s point in the famous Regensburg address: “not to act in accordance with reason is contrary to God's nature.” So whatever God commands us to do, we can trust that it will not contravene the moral law. Indeed, as Prof. Amerio points out in Iota Unum, even if the present universe were to cease to exist and God were to create a new one, He could not create a new moral order.

But this is not the case in Islam; the Muslim deity is the creator, not only of ‘things visible and invisible’, but even of morality—he can call good evil and evil good (allusion to Isaiah fully intended). Whereas the Holy Trinity will only ever permit evil in order to avert a greater evil or procure a greater good, the Muslim deity can do what would in the prevailing moral order be considered evil. Hence the Holy Father pointed out that

for Muslim teaching, God is absolutely transcendent. His will is not bound up with any of our categories, even that of rationality … Here [Prof. Theodore] Khoury quotes a work of the noted French Islamist R. Arnaldez, who points out that Ibn Hazm went so far as to state that God is not bound even by his own word, and that nothing would oblige him to reveal the truth to us. Were it God's will, we would even have to practise idolatry …
And remember, idolatry is about the worst sin there is, hence its inclusion in the First Commandment, ahead of murder and adultery. There are two conundrums involved in this: firstly, given that idolatry (First Commandment) is worse than disobedience (Fourth Commandment), oughtn’t one disobey the Muslim deity rather than worship false gods? Perhaps the Muslims order their precepts differently. Secondly, given that the Muslim deity can do evil, why ever should he be trusted? He could be lying to us in order to avert a greater evil or procure a greater good. Quite apart from any questions of external motives of credibility, there is the serious problem of this internal contradiction.

I can think of two possible origins of Islam, then, the first possibility more generous than the second. The first is that the false prophet Mohammed genuinely felt some sense of a calling from God, and so he made up and disseminated the teachings of the Koran. But given how diametrically opposed to Christianity Islam is, and given how clearly it overturns the moral order, I fear that this possibility is the more likely: that the Devil, seeing that he was defeated in the grand scheme of things but desiring to drag as many souls down with him as possible and inhibit as much as possible the spread of Divine Revelation, appeared either in person or in one of his minions to Mohammed and seduced him with his lies.

It is interesting also to note, then, an important area of agreement between the Muslims and the secularists—for both of them, morality is a created thing, and not at all immutable. It is unsurprising, then, to see informal alliances crop up between them on issues such as polyamory and the Our Father being prayed in Parliament.

As for the First Seminar of the Catholic-Muslim Forum of November 4-6, Friday’s Vatican Information Service Bulletin reported that

Each of the two sides in the meeting was represented by 24 participants and five advisers who discussed the two great themes of "Theological and Spiritual Foundations" and "Human Dignity and Mutual Respect". Points of "similarity and of diversity emerged, reflecting the distinctive specific genius of the two religions" the English-language declaration says.
It goes on to enumerate these points, all them predictable. It would have been nice, though, for the Muslims to qualify all their statements with the disclaimer ‘unless Allah says otherwise’.

Reginaldvs Cantvar
Feast of St. Andrew Avellino, 2008 A.D.

No comments: