An Address to the Aquinas Institute, University of Oxford 4/12/09
By Dr. Andrew Thomas Kania
Published in Church and Life (1830) 9.2.2012 – 29.2.2012 No 4 Pg2
(continued from Part I]
The difficulty for Nicholas of Cusa in his efforts to establish interreligious dialogue in his era, as well as the problem that The Qur’an poses for most Christians in our own, is that Christ never mentioned in the Gospels of the New Testament any prophet to come after him, but to the contrary, John the Baptist is said to be the greatest, as well as the last prophet (cf. Luke 7: 28); and Christ warns the elect to be wary of those who come after Him claiming to add to His teaching. (cf. Matthew 24: 24).
Hence Christians who believe that Jesus of Nazareth was God have as much right to be suspicious of any religion that denies the Divinity of Christ; as the Jews who still await the coming of the Messiah and refuse to believe in Jesus being the Messiah, and the Muslims who say that Jesus was not the Son of God, and that Mohammed was the greatest prophet. These are clearly significant divisions, between the “People of the Book”, but they should not, as Cusa does mention, preclude charity, and an understanding that all three Faiths spring from the same God, and the same family of Abraham.
Coming now from a solely Christian perspective, a further difficulty for Muslim/Christian dialogue, is that whereas Jesus of Nazareth has a hallowed place in Islam, there is in The Qur’an no reference to the essential teachings of Jesus, as outlined in the Christian Gospels. There is no Lord’s Prayer, no Sermon on the Mount, and none of the parables are mentioned. This said, it is critical that the neophyte be exposed to what The Qur’an actually says about Jesus – for herein lies the crux for future dialogue: “The angels said, ‘Mary, God gives you news of a Word from Him, whose name will be the Messiah, Jesus, son of Mary, who will be held in honour in this world and the next, who will be one of those brought near to God. He will speak to people in his infancy and in his adulthood. He will be one of the righteous’. She said, ‘My Lord, how can I have a son when no man has touched me?’ [The angel] said, ‘This is how God creates what He will: when He has ordained something, He only says, “Be”, and it is. He will teach him the Scripture and wisdom, the Torah and the Gospel, He will send him as a messenger to the Children of Israel: “I have come to you with a sign from your Lord: I will make the shape of a bird for you out of clay, then breathe into it and, with God’s permission, it will become a real bird; I will heal the blind and the leper, and bring the dead back to life with God’s permission; I will tell you what you may eat and what you may store up in your houses. There truly is a sign for you in this, if you are believers. I have come to confirm the truth of the Torah which preceded me, and to make some things lawful to you which used to be forbidden. I have come to you with a sign from your Lord. Be mindful of God, obey me: God is my Lord and your Lord, so serve Him – that is a straight path”. (The Qur’an, Sura 3 – The Family of Imran, trans. M.A.S. Abdel Haleem, 2005, pp. 37 – 38).
Jesus reveals His divine mission in The Qur’an by way of the miracles that He enacts, and by way of His miraculous conception. His teachings about the Law and the purpose of His prophetic mission, are opaque. The Jesus of The Qur’an is not the Jesus of the Christian Gospels – the One who takes the sins upon his shoulders, so as to redeem humanity, the One who takes upon Himself the task of dying the death of a thief in order to bring the fallen nature of humanity through the Resurrection to a mystical and permanent Divinely weaved restoration. There is in The Qur’an a nativity scene, but there is no Pasch. There may be indeed a ‘hidden gospel’ in The Qur’an, as Euler suggests, but the level of intellection and intuition to see this would preclude many from doing so. Moreover, it is fundamentally unclear what Gospel The Qur’an alludes too; for the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John – all speak of the death and the resurrection of Jesus, and that He was not only a Prophet – but the Son of God. These Gospels cannot be what The Qur’an is referring too, when it speaks of ‘Gospels’, as the Christian Gospels teach of a Jesus who is much more than a prophet. Conversely The Qur’an explicitly states: “The Messiah, son of Mary, was only a messenger; other messengers had come and gone before him; his mother was a virtuous woman, both ate food [like other mortals]. See how clear We [Allah] make these signs for them; see how deluded they are. Say, ‘How can you worship something other than God, that has no power to do you harm or good? God alone is the All Hearing and All Knowing’”. (The Qur’an, Sura 5 – The Feast, trans. M.A.S. Abdel Haleem, 2005, p. 75).
Muhammed Asad in his beautiful commentary to his translation of The Qur’an expands on this issue with regard the particular Gospel that is frequently referred too in The Qur’an when he writes: “It is to be borne in mind that the Gospel frequently mentioned in The Qur’an is not identical with what is known today as the Four Gospels, but refers to an original, since lost, revelation bestowed upon Jesus and known to his contemporaries under its Greek name of Evangelion (“Good Tiding”), on which the Arabicized form Injil is based”. (Asad, 2008, p. 79).
The different perception that a Christian has with regard Christ from that of a Muslim is great, but rather than making the world spiritually blind by spreading antipathy, and breeding prejudice, between one another, we must begin – as did Cusa, to attempt as the “People of the Book” to understand one another, so that we can see in all people of good-will, that there is but one God, Who desires that we come to know not only Him – but to love Him and to love others through Him, and because of Him. In fact The Qur’an specifically forbids a Muslim to argue with the “People of the Book”, in an aggressive fashion – and urges Muslims to understand that: “’We believe in what was revealed to us and in what was revealed to you; our God and your God are one [and the same]’ (Sura 29: 46) … We have assigned a law and a path to each of you. If God had so willed, He would have made you one community, but He wanted to test you through that which He has given you, so race to do good: you will all return to God and He will make clear to you the matters you differed about’”. (Sura 5: 48). By so doing we are not required to deny who we are – as a Jew – as a Christian – or as a Muslim, but we are invited to understand who others are in relation to us – the children of Abraham.