Christian God & the Muslim God..Are they the same?
When I was listening to your radio program, I heard one of your responses to a question, and I hope you could lend further clarification. The question surrounded the issue of Muslims, Catholics, Allah, and God. In the radio program, you provided an explanation, saying, “We (Catholics and Muslims) worship the same ‘What’, but not the same ‘Who’. While the explanation you provided may agree with paragraph 841 of the catechism (which you read on air), a comparison of that same paragraph to paragraphs 845-6 reveals a contradiction. Paragraph 845-6 reads, "Outside the Church there is no salvation." "Hence they could not be saved who, knowing that the Catholic Church was founded as necessary by God through Christ, would refuse to enter it or remain in it." Plainly, according to Catholic teaching, there is NO salvation outside of the Church, for the fullness of the Faith is found ONLY in the Holy Catholic Church. On the other hand, however, paragraph 841 reads, "The plan of salvation also includes those who acknowledge the Creator, in first place amongst whom are the Muslims." My first question is this: Why are those who profess Christ as King of Kings (namely Protestants and other non-Catholic Christians) excluded from salvation according to the catechism, yet those who deny His deity (namely Muslims) included? On another front, I think your explanation, “We worship the same ‘What’, but not the same ‘Who’” violates rational sense. Can God’s “What-ness” be distinguished or separated from His “Who-ness”? For example, can your children love your humanity (your “what”), but not your personhood (your “who”)? Or can they love your personhood, but not your humanity? The two are united and inseparable. You are who you are and that is contained within what you are. You would not be a “who” if you were not a “what”. While God is three Persons in one Being, those Persons are not separated from the very divine nature of God. Instead, they are eternally inseparable. Plainly, Muslims and Christians do NOT worship the same God. Simple observation of a few beliefs reveals Catholic and Muslim teachings CLEARLY contradict each other. Muslims say Christ was a mere prophet, a created being, and not God in the flesh of man. Muslims also say Muhammad came to complete all that Christ could not. To deny Christ is to deny God’s very plan of salvation for mankind. If you would be so generous with your busy schedule, could you please reply at your convenience?
We don't disagree but let me clarify.
The Church teaches (CCC 841) that "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."
These days, many people are inclined to be skeptical of this as a specimen of post-Vatican II 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, Pope St. Gregory VII (not exactly a modernist indifferentist), writing to the Muslim Sultan of Bougie in North Africa in 1076:
"For there is nothing which Almighty God, who wishes that all men should be saved and that no man should perish, more approves in our conduct than that a man should first love God and then his fellow men ... Most certainly you and we ought to love each other in this way 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, who have been told for decades that sinful Mafiosos, or anti-semites, or abusive priests somehow render Catholicism idolatrous should know better. 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 some key truths of the Faith including the Trinity and the deity of Christ--but then, so do Jews! Do Jews worship another God? 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 CC 841. 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 in perfect 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. Jeremiah couldn’t recite the 7 sacraments. 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). The Exclusivist who simplistically cites "No one who denies the Son has the Father" but who does not take into account the Church's teaching on culpability, ignorance and invincible ignorance is simply practicing another form of Fundamentalism. 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 following the propaganda that he has been taught all of his life. If he never hears actual Trinitarian teaching in a way he can comprehend, and tries his best to be faithful to the light he has by living a life of charity, our faith holds out hope that he can be saved by the grace of Christ. Cornelius was a pagan gentile who was seeking the light of truth and so he worshipped the God of the Jews. Cornelius had no understanding at all that God is a Trinity of Persons; Father, Son and Spirit co-equal, co-eternal, co-majestic of the same substance that are united from all eternity in the act of life giving love." And yet his prayers were acceptable to God because he was searching for 'Truth' (cf. Acts 10:3-4, 31, 34-35).
It is worth noting that the description of judgment in the parable of the Sheep and the Goats says nothing about having figured out correct doctrine. It is all about people responding as best they can to the light they have. Listen to Act 10:34-35 "And Peter opened his mouth and said: 'Truly I perceive that God show no partiality, but in every nation any one who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.'" Indeed, the mark of the saved sheep in the parable of the sheep and goats on judgment day is surprise, (by Jesus' account) are people from all the nations cf. Matt 25:31-32. I am sure that some of the people from among the "nations" (those outside the visible covenant community) did not have the slightest idea that they were serving him during their lifetime: "Then the righteous will answer him and say, '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 visit you?'" (Matthew 25:37-39).
This is why the counsel of the Church to those who are 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."
Finally, to put an exclamation point to this - Pope John Paul II said we worship the same God. The quote is found in a book entitled: INSIDE ISLAM A GUIDE FOR CATHOLIC BY Daniel Ali and Robert Spencer.
And so now that two Popes (John Paul II & Pope St. Gregory VII) have said we worship the same God, how can a Catholic understand this in light of Islam's denial of the Trinity.
When we say God has one essence and three persons we mean he has one What and three Whos. The three Who’s (persons) each share the same essence (What). So God is a unity of essence with a plurality of persons. Each person is distinct, yet they share a common essence or nature. God is one in his substance but three in his relationships. (Answering Islam p.265-266).
Professor Kruggel (George Town University and Steubenville University) who is an orthodox Thomist theologian provides an explanation that squares with the Catechism. He said, “we worship the same what? We don’t worship the same who?” What is God? A Divine Supernatural Being. So far so good, Catholics and Muslims agree. Who is God? Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Here is where we disagree profoundly, but we also disagree with the Jews on 'who' is God. Our faith is very reasonable and logical, Islamic theology is not, therefore I don't expect them to understands God's trinitarian nature so long as they keep on drinking from the poisonous theological wells of the Koran and refuse to drink from the New Testament. Their theology is irrational, that is why they refuse to discuss their religion with others, they believe in faith alone, whereas Catholic believe in 'faith and reason' and we are ready and willing to discuss our beliefs with anyone. In my opinion (not the Church's), I believe Islam's staying power as a religion is beyond human, it’s demonic.”
In conclusion, Muslim's understanding of God is deeply flawed and for the majority, "...through no fault of their own, do not know the Gospel of Christ or his Church, but who nevertheless seek God with a sincere heart, and, moved by grace, try in their actions to do his will as they know it through the dictates of their conscience - those too may achieve eternal salvation" (CCC 847). To read more about vincible and invincible ignorance cf. John 9:41, 15:22 & Luke 12:48. We will be judged in proportion to the truth that we have received in our lifetime - and the TRUTH IS CHRIST. However we still have a missionary mandate to evangelize the Muslims (CCC 848-849).
Finally our present Pope needs to weigh in on this matter:
ZENIT - The World Seen From Rome
Nonbelievers Too Can Be Saved, Says Pope
Refers to St. Augustine's Commentary on Psalm 136(137)
VATICAN CITY, NOV. 30, 2005 (Zenit.org).- Whoever seeks peace and the good of the community with a pure conscience, and keeps alive the desire for the transcendent, will be saved even if he lacks biblical faith, says Benedict XVI.
The Pope made this affirmation today at the general audience, commenting on a meditation written by St. Augustine (354-430).
On a rainy morning in Rome, the Holy Father's meditation, addressed to more than 23,000 people gathered in St. Peter's Square, concentrated on the suffering of the Jewish people in the Babylonian exile, expressed dramatically in Psalm 136(137).
The Pontiff referred to Augustine's commentary on this composition of the Jewish people, noting that this "Father of the Church introduces a surprising element of great timeliness."
Augustine "knows that also among the inhabitants of Babylon there are people who are committed to peace and the good of the community, despite the fact that they do not share the biblical faith, that they do not know the hope of the Eternal City to which we aspire," Benedict XVI stated.
"They have a spark of desire for the unknown, for the greatest, for the transcendent, for a genuine redemption," explained the Pope, quoting Augustine.
"And he says that among the persecutors, among the nonbelievers, there are people with this spark, with a kind of faith, of hope, in the measure that is possible for them in the circumstances in which they live," the Holy Father continued.
"With this faith in an unknown reality, they are really on the way to the authentic Jerusalem, to Christ," he clarified.
Continuing with his quotes from Augustine, the Pope added that "God will not allow them to perish with Babylon, having predestined them to be citizens of Jerusalem, on the condition, however, that, living in Babylon, they do not seek pride, outdated pomp and arrogance."
The Bishop of Rome concluded by inviting those present to pray to the Lord "that he will awaken in all of us this desire, this openness to God, and that those who do not know God may also be touched by his love, so that all of us journey together toward the definitive City and that the light of this City might also shine in our time and in our world."
What Pope Benedict just said lines up with sacred scripture: “And Peter opened his mouth and said: ‘Truly I perceive that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him’” (Acts 10:34). What does this mean? Simple, God can save people in ways only known to himself.