By William Kirkpatrick on CRISIS MAGAZINE
The Apostles’ Creed (updated version):
I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Holy Catholic Church, the communion of Saints, the forgiveness of sins, and the peaceful nature of Islam. Amen.
Or, anyway, that’s how it ought to read according to Monsignor Stuart Swetland, President of Donnelly College in Kansas City. No, Msgr. Swetland didn’t actually propose a revision to the Apostles’ Creed, but he does seem to be saying that Catholics have a religious obligation to affirm that Islam is a religion of peace.
In a long statement following up on a radio debate with Robert Spencer on Relevant Radio’s Drew Mariani Show, Swetland, according to Spencer, “contends that the statements of recent Popes to the effect that Islam is a religion of peace fall into the category of teachings to which Catholics must give ‘religious assent.’”
Swetland writes: “My main purpose in having a discussion with Robert Spencer, a Catholic, on a Catholic radio network was to show clearly that his positions on Islam were at odds with Catholic teaching.” He goes on to give a sample of magisterial teachings on Islam, starting with Nostra Aetate and including statements and exhortations from Paul VI, John Paul II, Benedict XVI, and Francis. He then observes:
Robert Spencer’s positions seem to be at odds with the magisterial teachings on what authentic Islam is and what Catholics are called to do about it (accept immigrants, avoid hateful generalizations, show esteem and respect, etc.). At least in the area of morals, Robert seems to be a dissenter from the papal magisterium.
And Fr. Swetland is a dissenter from common sense. The pages of history, the daily news, and Islam’s sacred texts all attest to the fact that Islam is not a religion of peace. Or, to quote the Ayatollah Khomeini, “Those who know nothing of Islam pretend that Islam counsels against war. Those are witless.” Khomeini was an Ayatollah Usma, a “Grand Sign of God”—an honor bestowed only on the most learned religious leaders. My guess is that the Ayatollah knew a lot more about Islam than Msgr. Swetland does.
I’m not saying that Swetland is “witless.” In fact, he seems to be an intelligent man. He has an undergraduate degree in physics, was a Rhodes Scholar, and studied philosophy and economics at Oxford. Still, high IQ and common sense don’t always go together. As George Orwell noted, “some ideas are so stupid that only intellectuals believe them.”
In the radio debate and in an article responding to his statement, Robert Spencer does a fine job of dismantling Swetland’s arguments. For one thing, says Spencer, affirmations about the nature of Islam should not be a matter of Catholic faith and morals. In other words, it’s a serious overreach to contend that the “wrong” opinion on the nature of Islam or on the advisability of mass Muslim immigration may constitute dissent from Church teaching. In saying that it does, Swetland has just created a whole new class of Catholic dissenters—one that probably numbers in the tens of millions. Spencer also observes that what previous popes had to say about Islam contradicts what current popes have said. Which Roman Pontiff must Catholics agree with: “Pope Francis, who declared that ‘authentic Islam and the proper reading of the Koran are opposed to every form of violence,’ or Pope Callixtus III, who in 1455 vowed to ‘exalt the true Faith, and to extirpate the diabolical sect of the reprobate and faithless Mahomet in the East’?”
The linchpin of Swetland’s case is Nostra Aetate’s brief statement about the “Moslems.” But as Spencer, and I, and others have pointed out, there are numerous problems with Nostra Aetate. One question that arises is whether Nostra Aetate was ever intended to be a dogmatic statement. That’s more of a question for Church historians to debate, but let’s just say for now that the question is debatable. What is less debatable is that the section of Nostra Aetate that deals with the “Moslems” is highly problematic, highly selective, and poorly thought out. For instance, the document states (I’m using Swetland’s translation) that Muslims “venerate Jesus,” but to anyone familiar with the Muslim Jesus, it’s not at all clear that it’s the same Jesus. For one thing, the Muslim Jesus makes his appearance in the Koran for no other purpose than to refute everything that Jesus of Nazareth says about himself. Nostra Aetate goes on to say that “they [Muslims] await the day of judgment and the reward of God following the resurrection of the dead.” What the document fails to say is that on the day of judgment, according to Islamic teaching, all non-Muslims will be cast into hell. As to the “reward of God”? Well, let’s just say that it’s not the same reward that Catholics await. Here’s a typical description from the Koran:
As for the righteous, they shall surely triumph. Theirs shall be gardens and vineyards, and high-bosomed maidens for companions (78: 31-34).
There are many other omissions in Nostra Aetate. In fact, it seems to have been designed to present only a positive view of Islam. I’m not the only one to have noticed this skewed presentation. In a 2012 essay for L’Osservatore Romano, Pope Benedict writes of a “weakness” in Nostra Aetate. “It speaks of religion solely in a positive way,” he said, “and it disregards the sick and distorted forms of religion.” Sick and distorted? Benedict doesn’t speak explicitly of Islam, but exactly what other religion so readily lends itself to sick and distorted interpretations? The trouble with Nostra Aetate is that it leaves us with a very incomplete picture of Islam. The picture has enough holes to drive a fleet of suicide truck bombs through it.
The main problem with Msgr. Swetland’s statement, however, is its recklessness. Last week in Crisis I wrote that the Church’s handling of the Islamic challenge may prove to be far more scandalous than its handling of the sex abuse crisis. Church authorities are engaged in what amounts to a cover-up of Islam’s aggressive nature, and Msgr. Swetland is a prime example of this ecclesiastical determination to put a positive spin on everything Islamic. But the stakes involved in doing so are extremely high. As I wrote last week, “as the gap widens between what Church officials say about Islam and what ordinary Catholics can see with their own eyes, the credibility of the Church may once again come into question as it did during the sex abuse scandals.”
Spencer makes the same point, albeit a bit more boldly: “if Monsignor Swetland is correct, then Catholics must affirm that Islam is a religion of peace…and the Catholic Church will be requiring that its faithful affirm the truth of what is an obvious and egregious falsehood.” By binding themselves to this falsehood, says Spencer, Catholic leaders will undermine their authority to speak in the name of Christ.
Msgr. Swetland worries that Spencer’s interpretation will drive moderate Muslims into the arms of the radicals. What he should be worried about is that his own (and Pope Francis’) interpretation will drive common-sense Catholics out of the Church. Does he really want to stake the Church’s authority on such a slender reed as a single section of Nostra Aetate and a few scattered papal statements? At a moment in recent history when it’s becoming clear to all but the most obtuse that Islam is not a religion of peace, is this the time for doubling down on a claim that flies in the face of all the evidence? Do Msgr. Swetland and other like-minded clerics want the Church to stand or fall on this fantasy view of Islam?
It can be reasonably argued that Church leaders should maintain a prudent silence about Islam’s aggressive nature lest Christians be killed in retaliation. But that is not the same thing as loudly and deceptively proclaiming that Islam is something that it is not—namely, a peaceful religion not unlike Christianity. Monsignor Swetland says Catholics should “show esteem and respect” for Muslims. But where is the respect for Catholics? In asking Catholics to be submissively content with dangerously misleading views on Islam, Swetland betrays a low level of respect for the intelligence of ordinary Catholics.
When the Apostles’ Creed was first set down in writing, Christians didn’t know anything about Islam. It had yet to be invented. But one thing that early Christians did know is that they were supposed to be on the lookout for false prophets. Nowadays, however, for a certain kind of Christian with a certain kind of mindset, there are no false prophets or false religions. Since they don’t admit of false prophets or wolves in sheep’s clothing, those are the kind of Christians who are most likely to welcome the wolves into the sheepfold.
CP&S Comment: Father Z’s take and commentary on this article and its protagonists adds some depth and interesting ideas on the subject.
The killer passage in this excellent article: “And Fr. Swetland is a dissenter from common sense. The pages of history, the daily news, and Islam’s sacred texts all attest to the fact that Islam is not a religion of peace. Or, to quote the Ayatollah Khomeini, “Those who know nothing of Islam pretend that Islam counsels against war. Those are witless.”…My guess is that the Ayatollah knew a lot more about Islam than Msgr. Swetland does.”
St. Thomas Aquinas on Islam:
“He (Mohammed) seduced the people by promises of carnal pleasure to which the concupiscence of the flesh urges us. His teaching also contained precepts that were in conformity with his promises, and he gave free rein to carnal pleasure. In all this, as is not unexpected; he was obeyed by carnal men. As for proofs of the truth of his doctrine, he brought forward only such as could be grasped by the natural ability of anyone with a very modest wisdom. Indeed, the truths that he taught he mingled with many fables and with doctrines of the greatest falsity.
He did not bring forth any signs produced in a supernatural way, which alone fittingly gives witness to divine inspiration; for a visible action that can be only divine reveals an invisibly inspired teacher of truth. On the Contrary, Mohammed said that he was sent in the power of his arms – which are signs not lacking even to robbers and tyrants. What is more, no wise men, men trained in things divine and human, believed in him from the beginning. Those who believed in him were brutal men and desert wanderers, utterly ignorant of all divine teaching, through whose numbers Mohammed forced others to become his follower’s by the violence of his arms. Nor do divine pronouncements on part of preceding prophets offer him any witness. On the contrary, he perverts almost all the testimony of the Old and the New Testaments by making them into a fabrication of his own, as can be seen by anyone who examines his law. It was, therefore, a shrewd decision on his part to forbid his followers to read the Old and New Testaments, lest these books convict him of falsity. It is thus clear that those who place faith in his words believe foolishly.”- Summa Contra Gentiles
1/ “..he gave free rein to carnal pleasure..”
2/ “.. Mohammed said that he was sent in the power of his arms – which are signs not lacking even to robbers and tyrants ..”
3/ “..Those who believed in him were brutal men and desert wanderers, utterly ignorant of all divine teaching, through whose numbers Mohammed forced others to become his follower’s by the violence of his arms..”
4/ “..It is thus clear that those who place faith in his words believe foolishly…”
Numerous Popes and indeed Councils. “..the sacrilegious name of Mahomet.”
Pope Clement V, Council of Vienne, 1311-1312: “It is an insult to the holy name and a disgrace to the christian faith that in certain parts of the world subject to christian princes where Saracens live, sometimes apart, sometimes intermingled with Christians, the Saracen priests commonly called Zabazala, in their temples or mosques, in which the Saracens meet to adore the infidel Mahomet, loudly invoke and extol his name each day at certain hours from a high place, in the hearing of both Christians and Saracens and there make public declarations in his honour. There is a place, moreover, where once was buried a certain Saracen whom other Saracens venerate as a saint. A great number of Saracens flock there quite openly from far and near. This brings disrepute on our faith and gives great scandal to the faithful. These practices cannot be tolerated any further without displeasing the divine majesty. We therefore, with the sacred council’s approval, strictly forbid such practices henceforth in christian lands. We enjoin on catholic princes, one and all, who hold sovereignty over the said Saracens and in whose territory these practices occur, and we lay on them a pressing obligation under the divine judgment that, as true Catholics and zealous for the christian faith, they give consideration to the disgrace heaped on both them and other Christians. They are to remove this offence altogether from their territories and take care that their subjects remove it, so that they may thereby attain the reward of eternal happiness. They are to forbid expressly the public invocation of the sacrilegious name of Mahomet. They shall also forbid anyone in their dominions to attempt in future the said pilgrimage or in any way give countenance to it. Those who presume to act otherwise are to be so chastised by the princes for their irreverence, that others may be deterred from such boldness
How can we be expected to believe something that is patently untrue???
to anyone familiar with the Muslim Jesus, it’s not at all clear that it’s the same Jesus. For one thing, the Muslim Jesus makes his appearance in the Koran for no other purpose than to refute everything that Jesus of Nazareth says about himself
Kirkpatrick makes an excellent point. The Quran is palimpset, and carries traces of centuries of Christian and Jewish writings, some canonical, many not. For example, the notion that Jesus was not ‘really’ crucified, is a recycling of a Docetist belief which was centuries old by the time the Quran was composed. Some very old, and very strange heretical Christian beliefs are preserved in the Quran. Which is one reason why there is increasing interest in exactly where and when it was composed. It’s pretty clear that the ‘Muslim Jesus’ is a construction built on earlier Christian heresies.
St Thomas Aquinas, as you remind us in your well chosen quotes had 3 main objections to Islam, – force (in spreading the faith), sensuality (in promises to the faithful), and an absence of miracles. But it seems odd to quote him at such length. St Thomas himself acknowledged that his knowledge of Islam was extremely limited. St Thomas Aquinas read widely and deeply, and would probably recommend that you go further than he was able to in finding reasons to criticise Islam. St Thomas Aquinas wouldn’t want to be treated as an authority on the matter
If you look at Belloc’s Great Heresy’s it extends and builds on Aquinas.
The common building blocks are Old and New Testament. This leads to a Ecumenical view and the fruits of which I believe is what you are really seeing here.
Ecumenical looks at Lutherans for instance.
To approach Heresies Ecumenically leads to the dangerous claim that they are peaceful. One thing to do what St Francis did walk into the Desert to Convert and another to actually trade with Dogma and sacred traditions (the Faith) to arrive at Unity.
By all means see Christ in Our Neighbour , We are bound to Love Our neighbour. But do not mix light and darkness.
Islam is a Heresy. An Islamic is my neighbour!
If you look at Belloc’s Great Heresy’s it extends and builds on Aquinas.
I have, and you’re right, i does. Just as Aquinas would have wanted.
One thing to do what St Francis did walk into the Desert to Convert and another to actually trade with Dogma and sacred traditions (the Faith) to arrive at Unity.
Yes, very good point. I agree
The thing that makes all heresies attractive and thence successful is that they all contain a lot of truth.
It is the toxic lie within the sweet truthful coating that causes all the trouble!
It takes a genius diagnostician to get to the bottom of a heresy and declare it in the open eg Aquinas or Irenaeus. Once the diagnosis has been made, then therapy can begin.
One way to avoid spiritual dis-ease is to isolate oneself from it or its vectors: quarantine. This is the strategy used by fundamentalists and traditionalists who refuse to accept anything new lest it bring dis-ease. The risk here is of becoming a fossilised, dry old stick. Sticks can be very rigid and cruel.
The opposite strategy is full engagement with the diseases in the wild, accept losses as part of the game, and rely on “supernatural selection” to produce survivors who are immune to the original ailment. This entails sacrifice, which is a very Christian thing.
St Damien of Molokai worked with lepers and became a leper himself but died a Saint. All of us can live amongst heretics trying to convert them by our example. Some of us may succumb to their disease involuntarily, but God will know our true inner disposition despite our errors.
In the final analysis, do we trust in God’s mercy, or do we trust only in our un-trust-able selves. What we don’t want to become is neurotically obsessive-compulsive and hostile to the world around us, nor do we want to become promiscuously worldly and unspiritual.
The happy middle way, in the world but not of it, is the route to our eternal destination.
BB, your posts are not just a joy to read, they are spiritually nourishing. Light hearted yet utterly serious. And often funny. And I always appreciate them even when I don’t agree
The feeling is mutual 😉
Its Not actually by example. The example is secondary. Its by Grace.
its the Sacramental Life where I die and Christ grows. This is really important because with the Saints we see in their lives Christ.
Its Christ that Converts if we become vessels for Him.
Sadly all to often we are seeing human ideas and reasoning and the fruits of this are sterile.
Good human intentions but not Divine.
We see Christ in Our Neighbour because Man was Created in the image and likeness of God. So the love of Neighbour is actually the Souls yearning and seeking for Christ.
This is the difference here between Islam ( which is a Heresy ) and the poor individual caught within that Heresy.
How can you be a good Catholic if you believe that Heresy is Good?
Roger, your comment, like heresy and the curate’s egg, is good in parts 😉
I do not believe that heresy (lower-case h) is good. It contains some attractive truths within it that draw victims in, and then the door slams or the poison kicks in, and the trap is sprung. Look at how a Venus Fly Trap or Pitcher Plant works.
The Church’s job is to diagnose the heresy in the first place, and then to post warnings far abroad to stop further innocents falling into the trap. Such warnings are most effective if they are given in a language familiar to the intended audience. There would be little effect gained from quoting the Summa Theologica to four year olds, for instance.
Heresiarchs and their followers have to be quarantined and offered a choice: return to the Church, or be excommunicated here and now on Earth, and henceforth in Heaven, God’s Mercy aside. At least that is the theory.
In practical pastoral terms, however, screaming “Go to hell you accursed heretic!” wins few friends or influences people. It is much better to converse with them and understand their confusions about God’s Truth, all while safely armoured against their dis-ease by an orthodox and lively Faith. Most of the time, you will find that they are not actual heretics or demoniacs, but merely lost sheep bleating for their Lord.
At least that’s my experience.
Thank fully Our Lady Of The Rosary has already proven to have the answer.
Islam is condemned by the Church. Our Lord is the Prince of Peace and Islam denies the Divinity of Christ and therefor it denies Peace.
Any Catholic, from Pope Francis to the smallest of the laity may give their views on Islam, but that is all they are – personal opinions, nothing more. The Catholic Church cannot – and in fact does not – compel Catholics to believe Islam is a religion of peace. How could it, when the absolute opposite is the glaring reality? (And I’m not referring solely to recent Islamic atrocities.)
Yes, there are plenty of peaceful Muslims around the world, that is true, but it is not because of their religion that they are ordinary, decent people; it is in spite of it! Muslims who truly follow their religion’s commands are in fact, those of ISIS, and their millions of Islamic sympathisers who, though perhaps not in a position to resort to acts of violence themselves, are still fully supportive of them. Worldwide surveys conducted on these questions have proven this fact.
It appears to me that Monsignor Svetland is totally duped by a post-V2 ideology (all his quotes are post 1960) parading as what the Islamists would call a “dhimmi”!
Worth reading Robert Spencer’s article (linked to in the post), plus listening to the radio debate, to gain a fuller picture of their opposing positions on this question:
“Fundamentalists” come in all shapes and sizes, and of varying ideologies, as I’m sure you would agree.
In fact, in my, admittedly, fairly limited experience, I have never met a more viciously radical, raging, hate-filled fundamentalist as a left-wing, dissenting Catholic of the type seen at the Fishwrap (misnamed ‘National Catholic Reporter’)… and sometimes even at the ‘Tablet’!
These traitors use the good name of the Catholic Church to spew forth their pro-abortion, sodomitical, ‘women’-priest, etc., anti-Catholic agenda.
P.S. The only difference between them and an Islamic fundamentalist is that their violence is all via the tongue (or the pen), instead of the barbaric beheadings, bombings, tortures and rape of the bestial Islamic jihadists.