Friday, March 23, 2007

"Esteem" for other religions?

In Nostra Aetate (1965), Pope Paul VI affirmed:
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, 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. Though they do not acknowledge Jesus as God, they revere Him as a prophet. They also honor Mary, His virgin Mother; at times they even call on her with devotion. In addition, they await the day of judgment when God will render their deserts to all those who have been raised up from the dead. Finally, they value the moral life and worship God especially through prayer, almsgiving and fasting.

Pope Benedict XVI reiterated this, saying, "I should like to reiterate today all the esteem and the profound respect that I have for Muslim believers" [Address to Ambassadors of Countries with a Muslim Majority and to the Representatives of Muslim Communities in Italy, Hall of the Swiss, Castel GandolfoMonday, 25 September 2006).

Some Catholics have been rather offended that Vatican II, Paul VI, John Paul II, and Benedict XVI have taught the we are to have respect for Muslims and other non-Christians. Some contend this is contrary to Sacred Scritpure, citing Mt 10:33 - "But he that shall deny me before men, I will also deny him before my Father who is in heaven." Yet, St. Matthew is speaking of those who obstinately oppose Christ. Traditional Catholicism holds that the internal disposition of another's soul is judged by God alone (cf. St. Pius X, Pascendi Dominici Gregis, 3).

Moreover, one ought to understand that "respect" or "honor" owed to another must me understood in a relative sense. Religion is better than irreligion. True religion is better than false religion.

For example, the sorcerers (Gk magus) of the NT who came from the east, although they practiced a false religion, they saw the signs God revealed to them and came to bow down before the Truth. I have high esteem and deep respect for any religion which does the same, insofar as they proclaim that which is true. I am bound also to admonish every false religion insofar as they proclaim that which is false. That is how the Catholic Church has always treated non-Christian religions, both preparatory for Christ while simultaneously being contrary to Christ.

Furthermore, Blessed Pius IX confirmed that not all those ignorant of the truth of our Holy Religion, obstinately oppose Christ. He stated:
"We all know that those who are afflicted with invincible ignorance with regard to our holy religion, if they carefully keep the precepts of the natural law that have been written by God in the hearts of all men, if they are prepared to obey God, and if they lead a virtuous and dutiful life, can attain eternal life by the power of divine light and grace." [Quanto conficiamur moerore]

St. Thomas Aquinas likewise taught that culpability for sin is linked to voluntariness. For instance, Saul explicitly rejected Christianity, but he "obtained...mercy...because [he] did it ignorantly." (1 Tim 1:13). Thus, St. Thomas taught "whatever is a reason for sin to be forgiven, diminishes sin." (ST, IIa, 76, 4).

St. Peter tells us to "honor all men." (1 Pet 2:17). So, I do. Even if they happen to be wrong about Christianity.

To be clear, the respect goes to people of other religions. This need to respect them is nothing new. St. Peter demanded it. So too do other popes after him.

Pope St. Gregory VII (d. AD 1085), writing to the Muslim King Anazir, the pope affirmed that there is an "affection we and you owe to each." Why? "...because we worship and confess the same God though in diverse forms and daily praise and adore him as the creator and ruler of this world....This grace granted to you by God is admired and praised by many of the Roman nobility who have learned from us of your benevolence and high highly they regard your prudence and high character and how greatly they desire and are able to be of service to you." (St. Gregory VII, letter XXI to Anzir (Nacir), King of Mauritania (Pl. 148, col. 450f.)].

Since we are called by St. Peter to honor all men. How are we to honor infidels, apostates, heretics, and schismatics? As Pope St. Gregory VII affirms, we do so insofar as they affirm what is true and do what is good, not because of what they assert which is false. Truth and goodness can only come from God. That's what St. Gregory meant when he told the Muslim King Anazir that his "good action was inspired in your heart by God....He who lighteth every man that cometh into the world enlightened your mind in this purpose." (ibid.). Such affirmation of truth and goodness, even by Muslims, demand high esteem and respect, as St. Gregory affirmed, "the same respect which we desire always to show toward you." (ibid.)

God bless,