Dear Mike, Eric M., and all,
There is a real, substantial question to explore here: the Muslim concept of God is very flawed, inasmuch as it separates God from reason, and presents God as an absolute and arbitrary power who can even contradict Himself. The unity of God and reason is part of what God communicated to the Israelites through Moses, and alas, the Muslims do not accept this principle.
For anyone interested, here is the passage from St. Thomas to which Eric M. makes reference:
I think it's a stretch to start from Thomas' point (the relations in God are the divine essence itself) and get to where Eric M.'s argument is going. Certainly Thomas wrote quite a bit directed at the Muslims, so perhaps we can find out someday what he thought on this issue.
- So what is the Council saying about Muslims in Lumen Gentium?
To understand that, see how the paragraph begins:
- Finally, those who have not yet received the Gospel are related in various ways to the people of God.
This actually relates to a statement of St. Thomas (ST III Q8, art 3, ad 1):
Those who are unbaptized, though not actually in the Church, are in the Church potentially. And this potentiality is rooted in two things — first and principally, in the power of Christ, which is sufficient for the salvation of the whole human race; secondly, in free-will.
So the Council is going to speak of non-Christians who relate to the Church in various ways.
First, it speaks of the Jewish people:
In the first place we must recall the people to whom the testament and the promises were given and from whom Christ was born according to the flesh. On account of their fathers this people remains most dear to God, for God does not repent of the gifts He makes nor of the calls He issues.
Then it speaks of others who acknowledge the Creator, and places Muslims among those people:
But the plan of salvation also includes those who acknowledge the Creator. In the first place amongst these there are the Muslims, who, professing to hold the faith of Abraham, along with us adore the one and merciful God, who on the last day will judge mankind.
So this is a more distant connection — people who don't share the Old Covenant, people who have a more limited knowledge of God; they know him as:
- the Creator
- as being one
- as being merciful, and
- as being the final Judge of mankind.
These are all truths, and they are truths that the Muslims have in common with us.
(They probably got them from us.) These common truths do set the Muslims apart from the Eastern religions that do not acknowledge God as the Creator, as one, etc.
The Council's text is doing a balancing act: in one way, it tries to be generous to Muslims, and in another way, it is somewhat reserved about them.
It says that Muslims adore the one God. The Council is saying this in a generous frame of mind, much as St Paul did when he spoke at the Areopagus (Acts 17:16-34). He told the Greeks that they had been worshipping God already, under the name of an unknown God — and St. Paul was there to tell the Greeks more about Him. Come to think of it, St Paul is going farther in his generosity than the Council, since he is talking to polytheists!
The Council doesn't say that the Muslims know God accurately or worship Him correctly. It doesn't even say that Muslims actually hold the faith of Abraham, but only that they profess to do so.
So there is a certain reserve being used.
Now, Eric M. does present an argument, which suggests that people who do not acknowledge God as the Holy Trinity cannot be worshipping the true God. If one were to follow this argument strictly, then one would have to say that the Jewish people do not worship the true God now and never did. But Jesus Christ, our Lord and God, never said such a thing to His people, and, to the best of my knowledge, the Church does not teach that.
- How can we resolve this?
- Is it possible for people to worship God imperfectly and even with some admixture of doctrinal error, but still be directing their worship to the one true God?
I don't want to go too far into speculating about this matter, since we're not here to give personal speculations.
The Council is giving a summary about specific categories of non-Christians who worship the one God, and talking in a positive manner about the things they do have in common with us, even though they have only limited knowledge about Him and how to worship Him rightly.
- Is the Council intending to present a binding teaching on this point, something which all Catholics would have to affirm?
This is an interesting question, which we really have to leave up to the Church, Herself, to clarify.
The Church has already taken a step to bring some clarity to this area. In 2000, under Cardinal Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI, the (CDF) Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith issued the declaration Dominus Jesus, which reaffirms the uniqueness of Jesus Christ, the Christian revelation, and the Church as bringing salvation to mankind. It takes a clear stand against indifferentism:
Certainly, the various religious traditions contain and offer religious elements which come from God, and which are part of what "the Spirit brings about in human hearts and in the history of peoples, in cultures, and religions". Indeed, some prayers and rituals of the other religions may assume a role of preparation for the Gospel, in that they are occasions or pedagogical helps in which the human heart is prompted to be open to the action of God. One cannot attribute to these, however, a divine origin or an ex opere operato salvific efficacy, which is proper to the Christian sacraments. Furthermore, it cannot be overlooked that other rituals, insofar as they depend on superstitions or other errors (cf. 1 Corinthians 10:20-21), constitute an obstacle to salvation.
I hope this helps. God bless!