Catholic Church and Islam

Last updated

Relations between the Catholic Church and Islam deals with the current attitude of the Catholic Church towards Islam, as well as the attitude of Islam towards the Catholic Church and Catholics, and notable changes in the relationship since the 20th century.


In the 7th century text Concerning Heresy , Saint John of Damascus named Islam as Christological heresy, referring to it as the "heresy of the Ishmaelites" (see medieval Christian views on Muhammad ). [1] The position remained popular in Christian circles well into the 20th century, with Hilaire Belloc terming it "the great and enduring heresy of Mohammed." [2]


Due to geographical proximity, most of the early Christian critiques of Islam were associated with Eastern Christians. The Koran was not translated from Arabic into the Latin language until the 12th century, when the English Catholic priest Robert of Ketton made the Lex Mahumet pseudoprophete translation (Robert was active in the Diocese of Pamplona, not far removed from the Arabic-speakers in the Iberian Peninsula). This translation was made at the behest of Peter the Venerable, while he was at the Benedictine Cluny Abbey in France, as part of a project to refute its teachings and aid in the conversion of Muslims to Catholic Christianity. The text describes Muhammed as a precursor to the Antichrist and the successor of Arius, a famous Christian heretic. This remained the standard document in the Catholic West until a more complete translation and critique was completed by Fr. Ludovico Maracci in 1698. Cardinal Nicholas of Cusa in the interim authored Cribatio Alcorani (Critical Study of the Koran) during the 1460s under the reign of Pope Pius II, at a time when tensions with the Ottoman Empire were heightened and Pope Pius II wrote Mehmed II a letter, attempting to convince him to convert to the Catholic faith.

Second Vatican Council

The question of Islam was not on the agenda when Nostra aetate was first drafted, or at the opening of the Second Vatican Council. The document was originally intended to be just about Rabbinic Judaism but as the Council was underway become a statement on Non-Christian religions. Due to the ongoing Arab-Israeli conflict, the document garnered the political attention of several Arab, majority Muslim countries such as Egypt, Lebanon, Syria and Iraq. [3] The Arab lobby, led by Egypt, often acted in concert with Eastern Catholics and conservative Latin Church Catholics who wanted the document to be pulled from the council, accusing it of being part of a Zionist conspiracy. [3] Their opponents included the American Jewish lobby, including the American Jewish Committee, B'nai B'rith and the World Jewish Congress, who had the collaboration of most American Cardinals and liberal Latin Church Catholics. [3] By the time of the Second Session of the Council in 1963 reservations began to be raised by bishops of the Middle East about the inclusion of the Jewish issue question. The position was taken that either the question will not be raised at all, or if it were raised, some mention of the Muslims should be made. Melkite patriarch Maximos IV was among those pushing for this latter position.

Early in 1964 Cardinal Bea notified Cardinal Cicognani, President of the Council's Coordinating Commission, that the Council fathers wanted the Council to say something about the monotheistic religions, and in particular about Islam. The subject, however, was deemed to be outside the competence of Bea's Secretariat for the Promotion of Christian Unity. Bea expressed willingness to "select some competent people and with them to draw up a draft" to be presented to the Coordinating Commission. At a meeting of the Coordinating Commission on 16–17 April Cicognani acknowledged that it would be necessary to speak of the Muslims. [4]

The period between the first and second sessions saw the change of pontiff from Pope John XXIII to Pope Paul VI, who had been a member of the circle (the Badaliya) of the Islamologist Louis Massignon. Pope Paul VI chose to follow the path recommended by Maximos IV and he therefore established commissions to introduce what would become paragraphs on the Muslims in two different documents, one of them being Nostra aetate, paragraph three, the other being Lumen gentium , paragraph 16: both statements are very similar and overlap. [5]

The text of the final draft bore traces of Massignon's influence. The reference to Mary, for example, resulted from the intervention of Monsignor Descuffi, the Latin archbishop of Smyrna with whom Massignon collaborated in reviving the cult of Mary at Smyrna. The commendation of Muslim prayer may reflect the influence of the Badaliya. [5] In Lumen gentium, the Second Vatican Council declares that the plan of salvation also includes Muslims, due to their professed monotheism. [6]

See also

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Second Vatican Council</span> Roman Catholic council, met 1962 to 1965

The Second Ecumenical Council of the Vatican, commonly known as the Second Vatican Council, or Vatican II, was the 21st ecumenical council of the Catholic Church. The council met in Saint Peter's Basilica in Vatican City for four periods, each lasting between 8 and 12 weeks, in the autumn of each of the four years 1962 to 1965. Preparation for the council took three years, from the summer of 1959 to the autumn of 1962. The council was opened on 11 October 1962 by John XXIII, and was closed on 8 December 1965 by Paul VI.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Supersessionism</span> Christian doctrine concerning biblical covenants

Supersessionism, also called replacement theology or fulfillment theology, is a Christian theology which describes the theological conviction that the Christian Church has superseded the Jews and the nation of Israel, assuming their role as God's covenanted people, thus asserting that the New Covenant through Jesus Christ has superseded or replaced the Mosaic covenant exclusive to Jews. Supersessionist theology also holds that the universal Christian Church has succeeded ancient Israel as God's true Israel and that Christians have succeeded the ancient Israelites as the people of God.

<i>Dominus Iesus</i> Catholic document

Dominus Iesus is a declaration by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, approved in a plenary meeting of the Congregation and signed by its then prefect, Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, and its then-secretary, Archbishop Tarcisio Cardinal Bertone. The declaration was approved by Pope John Paul II and was published on August 6, 2000.

Lumen gentium, the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, is one of the principal documents of the Second Vatican Council. This dogmatic constitution was promulgated by Pope Paul VI on 21 November 1964, following approval by the assembled bishops by a vote of 2,151 to 5. As is customary with significant Roman Catholic Church documents, it is known by its incipit, "Lumen gentium", Latin for "Light of the Nations".

<i>Apostolicam Actuositatem</i>

Apostolicam Actuositatem, also known as the "Decree on the Apostolate of the Laity", is one of the 16 magisterial documents of the Second Vatican Council.

<i>Nostra aetate</i> 1965 Catholic Church document on relations with non-Christian religions

Nostra aetate is the incipit of the Declaration on the Relation of the Church with Non-Christian Religions of the Second Vatican Council. Passed by a vote of 2,221 to 88 of the assembled bishops, this declaration was promulgated on 28 October 1965 by Pope Paul VI.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Christianity and Islam</span> Relationship between Christianity and Islam

Christianity and Islam are the two largest religions in the world, with 2.8 billion and 1.9 billion adherents, respectively. Both religions are considered as Abrahamic, and are monotheistic, originating in the Middle East.

Christian−Jewish reconciliation refers to the efforts that are being made to improve understanding and acceptance between Christians and Jews. There has been significant progress in reconciliation in recent years, in particular by the Catholic Church, but also by other Christian groups.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Catholic Church and Judaism</span> Catholic Church and Judaism

The Catholic Church and Judaism have a long and complex history of of cooperation and conflict, and have had a strained relationship throughout history, with periods of persecution, violence and discrimination directed towards Jews by Christians, particularly during the Middle Ages.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Louis Massignon</span> Catholic scholar of Islam

Louis Massignon was a Catholic scholar of Islam and a pioneer of Catholic-Muslim mutual understanding. He was an influential figure in the twentieth century with regard to the Catholic church's relationship with Islam. He focused increasingly on the work of Mahatma Gandhi, whom he considered a saint. He also played a role in Islam being accepted as an Abrahamic Faith among Catholics. Some scholars maintain that his research, esteem for Islam and Muslims, and cultivation of key students in Islamic studies largely prepared the way for the positive vision of Islam articulated in the Lumen gentium and the Nostra aetate at the Second Vatican Council. Although a Catholic himself, he tried to understand Islam from within and thus had a great influence on the way Islam was seen in the West; among other things, he paved the way for a greater openness inside the Catholic Church towards Islam as it was documented in the pastoral Vatican II declaration Nostra aetate.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Michael Fitzgerald (cardinal)</span>

Michael Louis Fitzgerald is a British cardinal of the Roman Catholic Church and an expert on Christian–Muslim relations. He has had the rank of archbishop since 2002. At his retirement in 2012, he was the papal nuncio to Egypt and delegate to the Arab League. He headed the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue from 2002 to 2006. Pope Francis raised him to the rank of cardinal on 5 October 2019.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Rose Thering</span> American activist (1920–2006)

Rose Thering was a Roman Catholic Dominican religious sister, who gained note as an activist against antisemitism, educator and a professor of Catholic-Jewish dialogue at Seton Hall University in New Jersey.

Subsistit in is a Latin phrase which appears in Lumen gentium, the fundamental document on the church from the Second Vatican Council of the Catholic Church. Since the Council the reason for use of the term "subsists in" rather than simply “is” has been disputed. Generally, those who see little or no change in church teaching in Vatican II insist on the equivalence of subsistit in and “is”. Those who point to a new, ecumenical thrust in Vatican II insist that the term was introduced as a compromise after much discussion, and acknowledges new elements in the Council's teaching.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Augustin Bea</span> German Jesuit priest and scholar and cardinal (1881-1968)

Augustin Bea, S.J., was a German Jesuit priest, cardinal, and scholar at the Pontifical Gregorian University, specialising in biblical studies and biblical archaeology. He also served as the personal confessor of Pope Pius XII.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Kurt Koch</span> Swiss prelate of the Catholic Church (born 1950)

Kurt Koch is a Swiss prelate of the Catholic Church. He has been a cardinal since November 2010 and president of the Dicastery for Promoting Christian Unity since 1 July 2010. He was the bishop of Basel from 1996 until 2010.

The Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews is a pontifical commission in the Roman Curia tasked with maintaining positive theological ties with Jews and Judaism. Established on 22 October 1974, it works alongside the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity.

The Dicastery for Promoting Christian Unity, previously named the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity (PCPCU), is a dicastery whose origins are associated with the Second Vatican Council which met intermittently from 1962 to 1965.

The relations between Pope John XXIII and Judaism are generally thought to have been among the best in the bi-millennial history of Christianity. The Pope initiated a policy of Christian–Jewish reconciliation after his election to the papacy in 1959, which focused on the Second Vatican Council producing a document on the relationship between the Catholic Church and the Jews. During his earlier career in the diplomatic service, especially during World War II, he had taken a series of actions that demonstrated his solidarity with victims of anti-Semitism.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Outline of the Catholic Church</span> Overview of and topical guide to the Catholic Church

The following outline is provided as an overview of and topical guide to the Catholic Church:

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Catholic ecclesiology</span> Theological study of the Catholic Church

Catholic ecclesiology is the theological study of the Catholic Church, its nature and organization, as described in revelation or in philosophy. Such study shows a progressive development over time. Here the focus is on the time leading into and since the Second Vatican Council (1962–1965).


  1. Griffith, Sidney H. (April 4, 2010). The Church in the Shadow of the Mosque: Christians and Muslims in the World of Islam. Princeton University Press. p. 41. ISBN   978-0-691-14628-7.
  2. Murray, Douglas (May 4, 2017). The Strange Death of Europe: Immigration, Identity, Islam. Bloomsbury Publishing. p. 131. ISBN   978-1-4729-4222-7.
  3. 1 2 3 Roddy, Joseph (1966). "How the Jews Changed Catholic Thinking". Look magazine.
  4. (History of Vatican II, pp. 142-43)
  5. 1 2 (Robinson, p. 195)
  6. Lumen gentium, 16 Archived September 6, 2014, at the Wayback Machine