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‘Inquiry’ Shall Set Us Free?

Should Catholics try to convert Muslims?

This has been a thorny question since the promulgation of Nostra Aetate (“Declaration on the Relation of the Church to Non-Christian Religions”), one of the most poorly conceived and worded documents of Vatican II. It states that the Catholic Church “rejects nothing of what is true and holy” in other religions, and has a “high regard” for the “precepts and doctrines” of other religions, which “although differing in many ways from her own teaching, nevertheless often reflect a ray of truth which enlightens all men.” Catholics already possess the fullness of truth as revealed by Christ our Savior. How can a mere ray of that full truth further “enlighten” us?

Nostra Aetate urges us to enter into “discussion and collaboration” with members of other religions: “Let Christians, while witnessing to their own faith and way of life, acknowledge, preserve and encourage the spiritual and moral truths found among non-Christians.” For example, the document states that the Catholic Church has “a high regard for the Muslims,” due to the various similarities between Christianity and Islam, including Muslims’ “veneration” of Jesus “as a prophet” — though they stop short of acknowledging Him as God. Is this one of the “moral truths” of Islam that we are instructed to “preserve” and “encourage”? Heaven forbid! But the document does not indicate whether or not it is, instead concluding its section on Islam with a plea that we “forget the past” and make a “sincere effort” to achieve “mutual understanding.”

Islam is possessed of a long institutional memory; many of the most high-profile Muslims positively agonize over what Nostra Aetate dismisses as the centuries of “quarrels and dissensions” between us. This past April, for example, a Muslim cleric and Hamas party member who holds a seat in the Palestinian parliament proclaimed, “Very soon, Allah willing, Rome will be conquered, just like Constantinople was,” and will be turned into “an advanced outpost for the Islamic conquests, which will spread through Europe in its entirety, and then will turn to the two Americas, even Eastern Europe.” Yet we Catholics are encouraged to forget the past. For many, that has meant emptying our minds of our heritage and tradition, with tragic results. Is this any way to evangelize? Is this even an effective way to go about seeking “mutual understanding”?

The murkiness of the documents of Vatican II, especially as found in Nostra Aetate, has rightly been blamed for the overwhelming loss of the missionary impulse among Catholics. It has also given rise to such bureaucratic appendages as the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, which boasts a “special commission” complete with a “bureau chief” for relations with Muslims.

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