Do Muslims worship God? This question has long troubled me and I can never settle it in my head. I am not talking about supernatural and acceptable worship. Clearly, they do not believe in Jesus Christ as the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity so are unable to offer acceptable worship to God. Nor am I talking about the natural virtue of religion. Strictly speaking there are no true moral virtues apart from Charity. I am talking about material acts of religion that would be formal acts of the acquired virtue of religion in a state of pure nature. Do Muslims perform such acts. Do they worship God?

I have come across three basic views on this:

  1. No. Islam is Deist, a form of monotheistic paganism. Unlike the Jews their worship is not even naturally directed at the same entity as the true God adored by the Catholic faithful. They are idolaters.
  2. Yes. Muslims know God through natural reason (see: Romans 1 & Vatican I) they direct their material acts of religion to Him. They ascribe to God incorrect attributes (e.g. having revealed himself to Mohammed) but they know Him as creator and worship Him as such.
  3. Yes and no. The being who revealed himself to Mohammed is not God and acts of worship specified in this way are idolatrous. In the other hand Muslims are men like everyone else able to know the Creator by the light of human reason and when they worship the creator as such their incidental errors about His interventions in history do not transform their acts of worship into acts of idolatry.

There are good argument for all three. In regard to 1. this seems to be the testimony of a good many Muslim converts. They do not believe they worshiped God before they converted to Christianity. The Council of Florence seems to assume Muslims are to be placed in the ‘pagan’ column. Leo XIII and Pius XI in their formulae of Consecration of the Human Race to the Sacred Heart seem to make the same assumption. In defence of 2. this seems to be the doctrine of Lumen Gentium 16 (although what theological note that has is obscure) and the opinion of at least some popes (including even St Gregory VII). Of course 3. seems easiest to defend and in some sense is probably the position of most adherents of 1. and 2. Unfortunately, in a way, it only bumps the problem down the road. For what would be the key factor determining whether one is worshiping the being who revealed himself to Mohammed or the Creator of the universe? This is the central enigma and the answer to it would seem to resolve the entire question. I find it hard to believe that Muslims if they discovered that the two were not one and the same would chose the former. If it were a marriage that would be enough to make the consent valid. I’m pretty sure the Mormons and the Gnostics don’t worship God. I’m not at all sure William Lane Craig does. The Muslims it seems to me ought to get the benefit of the doubt… but I ‘m not sure.




I have just noticed that Archbishop Lefebvre and Father Frederick Faber had, by etymology and meaning, the same surname. Effectively, both of them were called Smith. Appropriately enough – they were both craftsmen who built things to last. Habent sua fata, as I have said before, nomina.

I remember a long time ago a sensible sub-editor coming up to me with a book in his hand, called ‘Mr. Smith’, or ‘The Smith Family’, or some such thing.  He said, ‘Well, you won’t get any of your damned mysticism out of this,’ or words to that effect.  I am happy to say that I undeceived him; but the victory was too obvious and easy.  In most cases the name is unpoetical, although the fact is poetical.  In the case of Smith, the name is so poetical that it must be an arduous and heroic matter for the man to live up to it.  The name of Smith is the name of the one trade that even kings respected, it could claim half the glory of that arma virumque which all epics acclaimed.  The spirit of the smithy is so close to the spirit of song that it has mixed in a million poems, and every blacksmith is a harmonious blacksmith.

Even the village children feel that in some dim way the smith is poetic, as the grocer and the cobbler are not poetic, when they feast on the dancing sparks and deafening blows in the cavern of that creative violence.  The brute repose of Nature, the passionate cunning of man, the strongest of earthly metals, the weirdest of earthly elements, the unconquerable iron subdued by its only conqueror, the wheel and the ploughshare, the sword and the steam-hammer, the arraying of armies and the whole legend of arms, all these things are written, briefly indeed, but quite legibly, on the visiting-card of Mr. Smith.  Yet our novelists call their hero ‘Aylmer Valence’, which means nothing, or ‘Vernon Raymond’, which means nothing, when it is in their power to give him this sacred name of Smith, this name made of iron and flame.  It would be very natural if a certain hauteur, a certain carriage of the head, a certain curl of the lip, distinguished every one whose name is Smith.  Perhaps it does; I trust so.  Whoever else are parvenus, the Smiths are not parvenus.  From the darkest dawn of history this clan has gone forth to battle; its trophies are on every hand; its name is everywhere; it is older than the nations, and its sign is the Hammer of Thor   (G.K. Chesterton, in ‘Heretics’.)


(I know that Brompton Oratory didn’t look like that in Faber’s lifetime. But he is still the man behind it.)

The Regensburg Forum is hosting a debate between Thomas Pink and Steven Wedgeworth (a Reformed Protestant) concerning the compatibility of Dignitatis Humanae with the historic teaching of the Church. Pink (famously) says it is compatible because it concerns only the coercive power of the state and Wedgeworth says it isn’t compatible. Pink’s opening argument is here. Wedgeworth’s reply is here. Wedgeworth’s argument is that DH is just too enthusiastic about religious liberty and the fact that it is a fruit of the Gospel for the Declaration to be merely a grudging concession that the state alone has no power to coerce in religious matters – but don’t you worry when we have our hands on the temporal power we will be burning heretics again by right of the spiritual power to coerce (via the temporal). DH does not, Wedgeworth contends, merely observe that modern secular states cannot coerce in religious matters in a neutral way as an interesting fact. No, it claims this as a gain for mankind derived from the Gospel. As such it clearly violates traditional Leonine teaching which sees the enforcement of the Church’s coercive religious authority by the temporal power as an ideal arrangement in Christian societies.

Undoubtedly, the tone of DH points in this direction and is consequently difficult to swallow for an orthodox theologian. Nevertheless, Wedgeworth’s critique fails. As Pink observes, religion now transcends the power of the state because of divine positive law not because of natural law. On its own the state would have the right and the duty to discover and then embrace and enforce the form of worship appointed by God. However, it so happens that God has appointed a form – Catholicism – which prohibits the exercise (in its own right) of religious coercion by the state. The true faith brings with it supernatural certainty. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church 157 teaches,

Faith is certain. It is more certain than all human knowledge because it is founded on the very word of God who cannot lie. To be sure, revealed truths can seem obscure to human reason and experience, but “the certainty that the divine light gives is greater than that which the light of natural reason gives.” “Ten thousand difficulties do not make one doubt.”

Thus the freedom afforded to the non-beleiver to consider and embrace the true faith free from molestation by the temporal power – because coercive power over religion has been denied to the state in the order of the Gospel – is not taken from the believer. The believer’s conscience can never be violated by the enforcement of his duties as a Catholic because he knows with surpassing certainty the truth of the Catholic faith and consequently of his obligations under it. The Council is careful to make this distinction (whether by providence alone or human design I do not know),

This Vatican Council declares that the human person has a right to religious freedom. This freedom means that all men are to be immune from coercion on the part of individuals or of social groups and of any human power, in such wise that no one is to be forced to act in a manner contrary to his own beliefs, whether privately or publicly, whether alone or in association with others, within due limits.

The formal heretic or apostate by definition acts in a manner contrary to his own beliefs and in Christendom the Church by means of the temporal power seeks to compel him to act in accordance with his own beliefs. Furthermore, the temporal power can never be employed to prevent a person repudiating or leaving (see: DH 6) the Catholic religion as it is utterly impossible to reverse the effects of baptism or erase the baptismal character and thus neither the temporal power nor the spiritual need exert themselves to prevent someone doing the impossible.

Religious liberty consists in the freedom of non-believers to discover and embrace the Catholic Faith without coercion and the freedom of believers to continue to profess the Catholic Faith in accordance with their supernaturally enlightened consciences. Should the believers in question be so blessed as to live in Christendom, they have the added blessing of being prevented from violating their consciences by the temporal sword duly subordinated to the spiritual power.

Then Jesus said to those Jews, who believed him: If you continue in my word, you shall be my disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.

Of course, if the social and civil consequences of the Gospel for the adherents of the true religion in society were so radically divergent from the conditions obtaining under the Old Testament (e.g. Deuteronomy 13:6-9) as Wedgeworth’s interpretation of DH (and perhaps his own private view) implies it would be hard to believe that it was the same God revealing Himself in both Testaments. But then that has always been a difficulty for Protestants. 

A fascinating window into the ecclesiastical landscape of nearly forty years ago. It is striking that when the establishment spokesman’s claims about ad orientem are refuted by Michael Davies Fr Champlin puts up no resistance. He knew his claims were misleading and once exposed he sees no need to resist. The denial of any causal connection between the post-conciliar apostasy and the direction taken by the council seems bizarre from the vantage point afforded by time.

As any well-catechised Catholic should know, I know that it is a very fruitful practice to meditate on the Last Things. Unfortunately, intellectually knowing a thing and realizing it are two different pairs of shoes.

Recently, a science conference led me to Oregon, US, with the option to extend my stay for a week of travelling. My itinarary was rather varied and definitely interesting, including urban-area lows and wilderness highs; but the crowning moment of the whole trip for me was the time I spent at Mt. Rainier National Park. I went there mostly because it was on the way back from Washington to Portland, but let me tell you: Mt. Rainier is really, really impressive. I went to Portland on a plane from Vancouver, flying over miles and miles of the most dense cloud/smoke (forest fires) … and suddenly there is this awfully great big mountain sticking out as the one single thing from that whitish plain, at what seems the height of your plane itself! Again, driving with your car inwards from the coast, you think: well, back there is a rather funny cloud – when it is a great big ice-covered mountain at the horizon, sticking out from the apparent plain in a way that seems just impossible. (And this  imaga does not in the least reflect the majesty of that mountain, unfortunatly).


When I drove up to Sunrise Visitor Centre, I had even closer views of Mt. Rainier. And from the first to the last moment I was up there, I caught myself at the thought that I just do not believe this mountain, no matter what my senses tell me. I had a great hike, actually pretty much twice the distance of my original plan; and even though I am pretty easy to turn to tears, this might have well been the first time in my life I found myself crying for the sheer beauty of landscape.

So, on the way back, the thought crossed my brain how much greater heaven must be if it leaves you not missing such a sight. And slogging along, somewhat weary on both feet and nerves, since I had crossed some exposed gravelly slopes that did make my height-scared brain pretty much freeze, I realized for the first time in my life that what happens after death, whether heaven or hell or purgatory, was actually the most certain thing to happen to us at all.

i guess looking into the future is a natural thing, but what do I see? Very clearly, tomorrow’s project meeting; with glad anticipation, my parents’ visit in a few weeks; pretty confidently, my travel to a conference to Ireland next year; with hope, getting a grant to do research in Colorado for two years; with less confidence, some sort of tenure track somewhere, or even so much better, a family: all these things may or may not happen, but me ending up in heaven/hell/purgatory at some point has a 100% likelyhood, and it might very well happen within the next 24 hours – which none (apart of the project meeting) can claim.

Is this how meditation on the Last Things should work? Realizing that how incomprehensible to the mortal intellect, this might well be the thing that hit you tomorrow?




If I want to read Aesop’s fables in either English or German, and without too much added ideology, where would I look? Thanks in advance.

Some seven summers ago, I was taking coffee or ice-cream with a worthy Polish lady outside an Italian café, when we discovered that we were both readers of the Remnant. Placid by temperament, she became animated on learning this. ‘I love the Remnant’, she said, ‘it’s so – depressing!’

I feel rather the same about the Book of Ecclesiastes. Reading it is like being shown round some peaceful English cemetery outside a country church, and finding that all the paths meet at one’s own open grave, complete with a head-stone that awaits only the inscription of a date.

Maritain says somewhere that Ecclesiastes is the most perfect existentialist work ever written: haunted, I suppose he meant, by a twin sense of the countless possibilities open to human freedom, and the inevitability that all our actions, humanly speaking, come in the end to nothing.

St Jerome also seems to have been drawn to the book; at least, he chose to comment on it first, before any other work of Holy Writ. At one point, he asks what King Solomon meant by saying, A living dog is better than a dead lion: because the living know that they shall die, but the dead know nothing more, neither have they a reward any more: for the memory of them is forgotten; their love also, and their hatred, and their zeal are all perished, neither have they any part in this world. The Jew who taught him Hebrew, Jerome remarks, said that his people understood this to mean that someone still alive and teaching, however ignorant, is better than a perfect teacher now dead; so a village rabbi might be the dog, and Moses or some one of the prophets, the lion.

But our saint is dissatisfied with this:

Let us aim at higher things. With the gospel, let us say that the Canaanite woman who was told, ‘Thy faith has saved thee’ is the dog, and that the people of the circumcision is the dead lion, of whom the prophet Balaam said, ‘Behold the people! It will rise up like a lion cub, and like a rampant lion.’ Thus, it is we from the nations who are the live dog, and the people of the Jews, abandoned by our Lord, who are the dead lion. To Him, this living dog is better than that dead lion. We are alive, and know the Father, Son and Holy Ghost; they are dead and know nothing. They have neither promise nor reward to look forward to; their memory is finished […]

The love with which they once loved God has perished, and so has the hatred of which they boldly used to say: ‘Do I not hate those who hate you, O Lord, and did I not waste away over thy enemies?’ Their zeal, too, which was shown by Phineas, and which made Mattathias’s knees shake, has perished. It is evident, too, that ‘neither have they any part in this world’; they cannot say, ‘My portion is our Lord’ (PL 23:1137-38).