Do Catholics Worship the Same God as Muslims?

March 06, 2019

According to the Second Vatican Council, Muslims “adore the same God along with us.” That is what the dogmatic Constitution Lumen Gentium claimed on November 21, 1964: “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” (§16).

This idea has become a popular belief with inter-religious dialogue, but it is most perplexing: Muslims pray to Allah, sometimes in former Christian churches, but not really “with us,” and it is doubtful whether they pray to the “same God.” For Catholics, sons of the Church and redeemed by the Blood of the redeemer, God is Jesus Christ, but He is not really God for them. And yet, this conciliar claim does have an appearance of truth, since the Muslims claim that the revelation made to Abraham is also theirs. This revelation is authentic and true for all. He who prays to the “God who spoke to Abraham” does indeed seem to be praying to the true God.

A Biased Approach 

This captatio benevolentiae or positive and indulgent way of presenting a religion of infidels illustrates the practice of ecumenism and inter-religious dialogue that has grown so common since the Council. It consists in highlighting the fruitfulness of the “elements of salvation” present in other religions—belief in one single God, faith in Jesus Christ, valid sacraments, etc.—in order to help the dialogue with the representatives of different religions move forward. In what direction? For non-Catholic Christians, the idea is to move towards “full communion” or to reinvent the unity of the Church as if it no longer existed. For the others, the idea is more to work for world peace and social justice, as can be seen from the document on “Human Fraternity” signed on February 4, 2019 in Abu Dabi by Pope Francis and the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar, Ahmad Al-Tayyeb.

The liturgical prayer for the propagation of the Faith used to ask “for all nations to know You, the one true God, and Him whom You sent, Jesus Christ,” so that “all men may be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth.” This implies a desire for all men to adopt the true Catholic Faith, for they were seen not so much “other” religions, but as “false” religions, so many dead ends that, ignorant of the true God as He has made Himself known to men, lead men away from the path of salvation.

Ambiguous Terms

Supposing that, despite this consensual approach, the intention to bring all nations to the knowledge of Jesus Christ remains the same, one still has to wonder whether this language is exact. Can we really say that Muslims and Catholics “adore the same God?”

Adoration is the prayer addressed to God to recognize His sovereign perfection as the Creator. But it is first of all a prayer, that is, a way of addressing someone, a personal being. It is therefore necessary to have a sufficiently exact idea of this person, and in this case, the Supreme Being or God. In the first place, this supposes recognizing Him as a person, which is not the case with the Buddhist doctrine. Secondly, it also has to be the right person; otherwise one is speaking to the wrong person or to no one. Somewhat like when you dial a wrong number on the phone…

 What idea of God is necessary and sufficient, then, to avoid having the wrong address? If one speaks to the supreme, personal being, the Creator and Providence, then it is doubtless a true prayer and God will not fail to hear it. But if this religious act of prayer proceeds from a doctrine that fiercely excludes the dogma of the Blessed Trinity and that of the Incarnation, then one is formally addressing someone who is not the true God. One has the wrong person. 

The terms adopted by the Council are therefore ambiguous and misleading. Encouraging a non-Catholic in private to pray to God the Creator is without a doubt a wise way to dispose him to embrace the true Faith. But to uphold this attitude publicly scandalizes the faithful by leading them to believe either that Islam does not exclude the fundamental dogmas of the Catholic Faith or that the articles of the Faith are incidental and that all false religions, with their particular errors, are therefore practically indifferent means of salvation. The rights of the true religion are abandoned and the elementary charity of the truth that we owe to the infidels and unbelievers is neglected.

The End of the Missionary Spirit

Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre put it clearly: “Doubts as to the necessity and the nature of the conversion of all souls lead to the disappearance of religious vocations, the ruin of the traditional spirituality in novitiates, and the uselessness of the missions” (Answer to Cardinal Ottaviani’s inquiry, December 20, 1966).

The friendly message the Council sent to Islam, the marks of respect for a false religion (see the declaration Nostra Aetate, October 28, 1965, §3), and the respect for Mohammed (who is no more than a false prophet who enslaves millions of believers in the shadows of error and keeping them far from the true Faith) is scarcely in keeping with the spirit of the Church, that is a spirit of truth and holiness.

As for the faith in Abraham, St. Paul explained to the Hebrews that it leads to Jesus Christ, who alone obtains that which was promised (Heb. 11:39). Already in His day, Christ Himself rebuked the Jews for their incredulity and refusal to recognize Him as the Messiah (Jn. 8:58). May the Holy Ghost sanctify and convert all upright hearts imprisoned in the shadows of error.