Muslims in Italy plotted to destroy Cathedral
authorities continue their campaign to eliminate white “racism,” a campaign that can only be completed when the whiteness of the West is itself eliminated, Muslim immigrants give an idea of what they have in mind for the Christianity of the West. The Italian police have just foiled a plan by al Qaeda-linked Muslims in Italy to blow up the 14th century Cathedral of Bologna
, because it contains a medieval fresco depicting the Prophet Mohammed in hell. Frankly, it is hard to resist the thought that, judging by the behavior of so many of his followers, perhaps the Medieval Christian view of Muhammed wasn’t far off.
Posted by Lawrence Auster at June 24, 2002 01:39 PM | Send
It is hard not to believe the depiction of Bologna is true. Muhammed was a false prophet who achieve goals by laying low his enemies by his sword.
Maybe Christians should unite and occupy Mecca. I’m sure Al-Qaeda would love that!
But that would be giving the terrorists what they want!
Well, they do want to go to ‘paradise’ taking a shortcut. ;)
You dont have to be a moslem to find such articles silly. Articles like this are top heavy with this newfound sugery american patriotism.
Well, it is a news satire/humor site, what do you want, indepth analysis?
well satire on the newfound feeling of patrotism. I dont hear many americans telling me anymore that there is something deeply wrong with their country. The flag-waving is now masking that insecurity.
It is sad and ironic that conservative Christians fear Islam so much. The traditional Christian and Muslim view of the universe shares far more common ground than modernist egalitarian leveling. Conservative Christians would do well to distinguish between traditional/conservative Islam, which can be peacefully coexisted with, whereas modern Wahhabism (Bin Laden’s brand) is a heretical sect which even Muslims cannot coexist with.
The “Islam is a lot like Christianity” premise requires a certain reading of history that seems untenable to me. Islam was founded by the merchant Mohammed because while he believed that there was truth in Christianity and Judaism, the fact that Arabs were not the chosen people was unacceptable. From the beginning the programme was to either convert Catholics — the only sort of Christian at the time — or murder them, in sharp contrast to the messy-getting-along-muddle of post-Constantine Roman Catholicism and paganism. He promulgated the textual literalism — the worship of a dead logos — that lies at the root of protestantism and its ideological children, including modern secular liberalism and America’s perverse “conservative” constitutional literalism.
For example, for a straightforward treatment you can read about this in _Islam: a Short History_ by Karen Armstrong — a modern secular scholar whose agenda is specifically to promote understanding between Islam and the West. Armstrong goes out of her way at every turn to cast a sympathetic light on Islam, but the facts scream forth. For example, the Koran is a deliberate blasphemous substitute for the Christian Eucharist. Moslems substituted the recitation of their dead logos written on dead trees for the Real Presence in the Eucharist, an innovation that is reflected in modern day protestant Bible-idolatry:
“It [recitation of the Koran] was similar to the Christian devotion to Jesus, since it saw the Quran as God’s uncreated Word, which had existed with him from all eternity, and which had, as it were, taken flesh and human form in the scripture revealed to Muhammed. Muslims could not see God, but they could hear him each time they listened to a recitation of the Quran, and felt that they had entered the divine presence.”
So according to Armstrong the Koran, the dead Logos printed with dead ink on dead trees, was for Muslims essentially the same as Christ; and reciting it their Eucharist.
Islam’s conversion by the sword doctrine takes the same form as modern secular liberal tolerance: as long as everyone is a liberal there will be no violence. Those who are not liberal are infidels, sick and twisted subhumans that must be made to submit to liberal principles.
Of course in a comment space on a blog it is impossible to get into in-depth historical analysis. But it seems to me that the only way to avoid facing the fact that Islam wants Christianity either converted or dead — Islam itself means “submission” — is to take a position of deliberate ignorance. Protestantism and its child modern liberalism tend toward sympathy for Islam despite its intrinsically tyrannical and murderous nature because protestantism adopted some of Islam’s heresies (the early Imams’ discussions of social justice sound remarkably similar to the human rights ideology that takes such a beating as tyrannical here; there is really too much to discuss in a comment). _Sola Scriptura_ is mostly a restatement of what the Imams claimed about the Koran a thousand years before, and Protestants practice liturgical oration rather than liturgical sacrifice just like their Moslem forebears. So to face the fact that Islam was founded on a murderous jealousy of Christian truth is too much to ask of a modern liberal protestant despite known historical facts.
This idea of Islam as a peaceful religion only recently perverted to violence by Wahhabism reminds me of Margaret Mead’s discovery of peacefully liberal sexually libertine native societies. Liberal mythology is so utterly dominant that facts can’t possibly get in the way.
Matt’s comments on Islam are interesting and cogent. But I have two questions. First, why does he place such emphasis on Protestantism’s supposed “worship of a dead logos” as the explanation of its inability to recognize the unpleasant truths about Islam? Isn’t the usual liberal non-judgmentalism and favoritism toward the Other a sufficient, and certainly more economical, explanation?
Second, could he give an example of this “worship of a dead logos”? I think I know what he’s getting at, i.e., the conversion of Christian truth into an idea, but the description seems overdone, and, also, it would seem to apply more to secularized Protestantism than to Protestantism itself.
I agree with Mr. Dickson that there’s more of the good, beautiful and true in Islam than in liberalism. It has given rise to one of the world’s great civilizations, and there’s something in it that has aroused men’s devotion and ordered all aspects of their lives for almost 1400 years. That’s not nothing.
Still, I think that as a universal faith with a comprehensive law creating a single community that definitively replaces all other communities orthodox Islam tends toward the totalitarian, and it actually shows some of the vices of 20th c. totalitarianism. Here, for example, is a debate whether it requires the extermination of Christians and Jews:
If that sort of thing can constitute a normal discussion within Islam I think Christians are right to be alarmed.
Well, uh, Matt’s comments on Islam, the Quran, and Protestantism are what I would call a stretched interpretation of some of the ‘facts’. I would really question how grounded in reality an assertion that a third of humanity (the world’s Muslims and Protestants) is totally immersed in a tradition of all-or-nothing tyranny and murder. These and other interpretations seem to me to be rooted in the dillema that some traditionalists face, namely, acknowledging the fact that objective truth exists, while making sense of the various presentations of objective truth that the world’s cultures have presented. To me, this dilemma is solved by the Perennialist or Traditionalist view, (in philosophy of religion) which asserts that the world’s religions are various forms of expression of the objective truth. As forms, these religion’s particulars are relative, while their substance, namely objective truth is absolute and universal. This explains why different societies can all claim to have objective truth, without relativising this truth, just contextualising it. It also avoids the absurdities that one must accept if one is to claim that one society has truth while all others have only perverted falsehood.
In response to Mr. Kalb. First of all, I have only today seen your posts, but I already admire much of what you write in them, and respect you as a thinker.
However, as I mentioned before, what Christians, and indeed Muslims, should fear is Wahhabism. The article that you provide the link to Mr. Kalb, is by a Saudi author. This backs up the point I am trying to make, as Saudi Arabia is the birth place and present-day home of Wahhabism, and I can guarantee you that a Morrocan Sufi would discuss no such thing as genocide.
Traditional Islam resisted 20th Century style totalitarianism by allowing for the existence of various schools of law and theology within its orthodoxy. As well it allowed for immense cultural difference as is evidenced by the difference culturally, between Muslims in Bosnia, and Muslims in China (Chinese mosques are built in a distinctly Chinese style, while Bosnian one’s are built in a decidedly European style as evidence of this evidence). It is an interesting note that Saudi Wahhabis are destroying traditional Bosnian mosques (which are very unique and ornate) and replacing them with sanitized, Saudi mosques, which are like McDonald’s, the exact same mechanized blandness where ever you go.
Traditional Islam also provided for the tolerance of non-Muslim communities, as evidenced by Spain under Muslim rule etc.
Still yet, Islam has within it the means to transcend Medieval imperial drives and co-exist without war, which in Medieval times was foreign policy par exellance. Any one who had a high level of working knowledge of Islamic law can back up what I am saying here.
So I think that the totalitarianism that Mr. Kalb is seeing is not intrinsic to Islam, but a manifestation of a heretical sect that has only gained the appearance of legitimacy through the oil money that gives it a financial backing.
However, I think that traditional Islam has a tough contingent exterior (namely the law) that protects it’s neccessary interior (objective truth). In this sense it seems rather well suited to our age which eats away at the traditions of religion, which, like clothing, both conceal and protect its internal truth.
In reply to Mr. Auster:
Understand that I am just saying what I actually think, without trying to sugar coat it. Too many murders have been committed in the name of being nice.
The strong parallel I see between Islam and Protestantism is precisely that of placing highest authority in symbols (dead form) written down on paper (dead substance). I think it is eminently reasonable that, given a thousand years or so to think about it, Christianity’s liberal rebels (protestantism) latched on to that device. Deification-of-koran as rejection of Eucharist seems almost exactly parallel intellectually to _sola scriptura_ as rejection of Eucharist. I agree that in modern times it is easier to be a liberal than a protestant, but the latter leads to the former anyway in my view.
As to the second question, I think I partially answered it in my response to the first, but perhaps I can say it in other ways in order to make the position more clear.
Islam provides for direct unmediated contact with God through a written text (a dead logos). In contrast to Catholicism (both EO and RC), Protestantism also provides its most direct authoritative contact with God through a written text (_sola scriptura_). Rather than accepting the messiness and incompleteness of receiving the transcendent through liturgy, tradition, ecclesial organization, and yes also sacred scripture both written and oral, both Protestantism and Islam take an anti-intellectual and anti-human approach to authority by attempting to literally incarnate that authority in a text. The postmodern project thinks it has discovered something new in the insufficiency of textual narrative, but that is only because of centuries of wrongheadedness in the dominant culture.
Does that help?
As to Mr. Dickson’s comment, it appears that I have to interpret his reaction to what I wrote as an assertion that it is “silly,” with all that implies from earlier discussions on this blog, unless there is something that is intended to address what I actually wrote. “One third of the human race can’t be nuts” doesn’t seem to me to address anything specific that I said.
I would observe that the notion that all religions have equal access to truth is just liberalism with a traditionalist coating (which does not imply that I have some simplistic view of truth, relativity, and relativism).
Thanks to Matt for his reply. However, I do not think he has demonstrated how or even whether the parallel he sees between Islam and Protestantism is responsible for liberal and secular Protestants’ unsufficient opposition to Islam. Matt’s thesis seems to be, Protestants perceive in Islam an anti-eucharistic ally against Catholicism and so they welcome Islam into the West. However, I doubt very many Protestants are in the slightest degree familiar the kinds of issues that Matt has raised. At the same time, modern Catholics are as naïve or nonjudgmental toward Islam as are Protestants. So I wonder if Matt may be injecting his theological and liturgical dispute with Protestantism into an area where it doesn’t quite fit and where other explanations—which I’ve already suggested—may provide more clarity.
On the second point, while there is much to criticize about Protestantism and the way it led to liberalism (I once gave a speech making a point not unlike Matt’s), I think phrases like “worship of a dead logos,” while they may perhaps apply in some extreme instances, are too strong as a description of Protestantism per se. Protestants (but not Catholics according to Matt?) see the Bible as the divinely inspired Word. It is not dead, but alive, and continues over and over to lead people back to God, as does the liturgy and eucharist of the Church.
To Mr. Dickson:
Thanks for your comments.
I do have some problems with Islam. As stated, one is the notion of a single universal law for a single universal community, which suggests what for me is the essence of totalitarianism—the notion that we can possess a sufficient understanding of the absolute in fully concrete form, so we don’t need to depend on the transcendent itself. I agree that the existence of multiple equally orthodox schools of Islamic jurisprudence shows that the situation is not as bad as it might be. Nonetheless, the absolute unity and arbitrariness of the Muslim conception of God, which seems to make God so transcendent that we can’t do anything with him, and his adequate revelation to us in the form of a text, which seems to make the absolute insofar as we can do anything about it something we can fully possess, appears to make it difficult to get rid altogether of the problem of the practical reduction of the absolute to a set of rules and propositions.
My understanding is that these problems disappear in Sufism. It’s also my understanding that orthodox Islam deals with Sufism by depriving it of cognitive content. The Sufis are intoxicated by divine love, the orthodox say, so you can’t take what they say seriously. It seems to me that situation creates an instability that may make something like Wahhabism a perpetual presence with a substantial claim to constitute true Islam.
I agree that a particular concrete religious law covering the whole of life may be necessary for the survival of tradition in the modern world. If so though I think it’s important that the law not be considered of universal application. Otherwise it looks too much as if it adequately captures the absolute. So I have fewer problems with the Jews or Amish than the Muslims.
I should add that a general problem I have with integral traditionalism is that I don’t see how a metareligion is possible. Your religion is what you think is ultimately true about the world. So how can you have something beyond that that explains your religion as a metaphor or expression of something else? That makes the something else your religion, and the founders of integral traditionalism founders of a new religion. They may be admirable scholars, but I don’t think they were quite up to that. Also, it just doesn’t seem true to me that all religions are fundamentally the same.
A couple of references religious communities in the modern world based on comprehensive law and on oppositions between Christianity and non-Christian religions:
You’re welcome, of course. My primary and first point was that the business about Islam being like Christianity or in any sense a peaceful religion is factually a bunch of rot: it requires serious historical blinders to fail to call the religion of the sword what it is, and the tendency to put on those blinders comes from misguided tolerance — the motivations for which are secondary but interesting — rather than from any factual basis. There does not appear to have been any substantive dispute on this point.
(As for Mr. Kalb’s comments above, while I appreciate them the same sorts of things can be said about liberalism. This does not relieve us of our duty to unequivocally oppose it or to call it what it is in opposition to other things).
The subsidiary point that arose is the relation between Islam’s treatment of its scriptural text and Protestantism’s treatment of its scriptural text, and the stark contrast of both with Catholicism’s treatment of text in general and scripture in particular (for something up to date on the latter I recommend _After Writing: On the Liturgical Consummation of Philosophy_ by Catherine Pickstock). Mr. Auster didn’t say anything about that at all, but if the point is that we can take it as a given without ultimately influencing the feelings in the trailer park or in Rush Limbaugh’s studio then that doesn’t seem to follow. Either the “isms” are things that transcend individuals and to which individuals give their alliegence, or they are just aggregations of individuals picking and choosing their ideology from a menu of arbitrary possibility. If the latter is the case then categories are arbitrary, and we can say anything about whatever we want by willing whatever categories we want and this sort of discussion is pointless. If the former, then the view from the trailer park doesn’t really matter: of course most people have something less than a bumper sticker idea of what masters they serve; but if the attempt is to discuss the masters rather than their servants then who cares? If ists/ics are not distinguishable from isms then all talk of isms is pointless.
It is this tendency in Mr. Auster’s writing (much as I appreciate it in general, and I truly do) — to reduce the structure and influence of ‘isms’ to what some individual ‘ists’ happen to think — that has led me to harrass him on occasion about whether or not there are nominalist commitments lurking.
Finally, of course it is true that both Protestants and Moslems will object to my characterization of their treatment of scripture as a dead logos set in opposition to the living (that treatment is independent of the question of whether or not Protestants and Moslems treat text in general and scripture in particular substantially the same, of course). If they are simply picking their alliegences then it doesn’t really matter what they think or want to think personally, though; it only matters whether or not it (the treatment of some text as if it were itself the living Logos) is true.
To Mr. Kalb,
First of all, when we are speaking of a given quality of a religion, I think we can see that quality as having both good and bad manifestations.
For instance, at its best, the universal law of Islam creates a peace based on certainty among its subscribers, and somewhat secures a society from changing trends that could steer the society off the course of balance. At its worst, the universal law could lead to a totalitarianism, that restricts, and is fanatically grasped on to and promoted. I feel that in almost all the cases where you criticize Islam, although the critique itself is insightful and contains truth, you point out the negative aspect of the Islamic quality, which is only one side of the coin.
For instance, one could argue that because Christianity does not have a religious law, it was vulnerable to the shifting trends of society, hence the rise of modernity and liberalism, which destroyed Christianity as a foundation for Western Civilization. However, this is only one side of the coin.
You seem to describe Islam as being somewhat too adequate, covering too many of the bases. I smile and think, to Muslims, they love this aspect of it, it gives them peace. To Christians, its too much told, not enough mystery and discovery, which for them gives them joy. Both have good and bad aspects and manifestations as mentioned before.
On Sufism, first of all, Sufism is allowed to go places that orthodoxy wouldn’t on the basis of ‘intoxication’. However, Sufism is still taken seriously; Sufism’s masters are the commoner’s saints. So Sufism is, in a traditional context, given teeth, so to say.
You state that the relationship between Sufism and orthodoxy creates an imbalance. On the positive side, this could be seen as a dynamic tension that keeps both on their toes.
It could also be noted that Islam accomodated mysticism better that the Catholic Church, although the Eastern Church seems to be more mystically inclined.
Your point on Wahhabism being a perpetual presence is not, from what I can see, entirely accurate. Wahhabism arose in the 18th Century, and before that was not in existence. Oh sure, there was xenophobic Ibn Taymiya, but his influence was minimal. So Wahhabism is a modern heresy that is combated by both orthodox and sufi scholars.
Finally, in terms of the perrenialist philosophers creating a new religion. Truth is truth, and goodness is goodness, by what ever name. So what the perrenialist/traditionalists spoke of was not a new religion, but the essence of them all, namely Reality, which, call it what you will, just is.
In response to Matt,
Indeed, what it gets down to, is: Is a given religion true/revealed. If so well, then as the Hindus say, “there is no greater right than that of truth”. If King Solomon waged war, he was doing so under God’s order, so wether or not it was militant is very secondary.
So if one sees a religion as true, well then the positive aspects will be emphasized, the negative seen as unfortunate side effects. However, if one sees a religion as false its negative aspects will be seen as essential, and the positive as fortunate side effects.
And since this is a judgement call there is not much point in arguing it.
But I feel that Schuon was right when he said that there is no absolute proof for a specific religion, only religion as such.
Speaking of religion as such, I will end with a quote from a Hindu saint that I think sums up a lot of what we are talking about:
“Religion is like a cow, it kicks, but it gives a little milk too.”
Oh yeah, uh guys, about the Koran-as-dead-logos thing. Koran in arabic means “recitation” and the Koran is seen as first and formost just that, a living recital, which although backed up by a textual form, is primarily passed down and used ritually in an oral, hence living form. The scripture is also seen to reflect realities inherent in the human soul, thus activating life when it is recited by living people in the present moment, which is the only moment that is alive.
A fixed text does not have to be written, it just has to be fixed and primarily authoritative. It will of necessity trump inherently plastic (i.e. living) liturgy, tradition, and magisterium in authority; the result is an empty and literally meaningless fixed text, since scripture (or any text at all) is interdependent with its more plastic bretheren in order to have meaning at all. A text-as-such made to stand on its own is not living, not logos; it is a hollow form, empty inside. About this the postmoderns are profoundly correct: Derrida is the rightful heir and prince of the master narrative of the last 1500 years.
Islam views the Koran in any language other than Arabic as invalid — that is just how fixed the view of it is. Whatever else may be said about it, this is clearly parallel to (and preceding by a millenium) Protestantism’s doctrine of _sola scriptura_.
First of all, in all seriousness, thanks for the moo :).
I think the text only exists as long as humans do. If there are no people to interact with the text then it is dead. (If a tree falls in the forest but nobody hears….) But a text such as the Koran is alive in the souls of those with whom it interacts.
Second, the recitiation of the Koran is carefully timed, with various pauses, and long-drawn out vowels, corresponding with breath. As well, the sounds of the Koran are seen as having a mantric quality in Arabic, hence the need to preserve the Arabic aspect of it in ritual recitation.
Third, Koran = logos is a little simplistic. The Koran as earthly manifestation of heavenly logos is perhaps moving in the right direction.
Finally, again this gets down to a matter of truth; if it is true all else is secondary. Since we disagree fundamentally about the primary, talking about the secondary is perhaps a little trivial. I’m tired and need to go to bed. So let’s agree to disagree (too liberal? :)
Thanks for the invigorating disscusion.
I will continue on a subplot oblivious to the fray… Stephen: Americans always complain about their society, no matter what ideas they have. The status quo never serves everyone and we are very loud with our grievances. In many ways this is our Golden Age and it is in golden ages that the strengths and flaws of a society are the most pronounced.
I think the reason for the evangelical Protestant devotion to sola scriptura is because tradition and liturgy tend to be more amenable to manipulation by whoever claims authority at a point in time. Granted, scripture can be interpreted in different ways, many of them incorrect, but I don’t see why the bible is meaningless unless you have a “tradition” that takes primacy.
I can understand the concept that you need some axioms with which to test the Bible, as that is what Christian apologetics is all about; start with some assumptions about how you obtain evidence and then test the Bible on those grounds.
However, the idea that tradition trumps scripture is, in my opinion, just a way to allow one’s self to incorporate one’s personal preferences into a religion.
We do not worship the Bible, nor do we believe that God only relates to us through our reading of scripture. We simply believe that it is the most comprehensive statement of God’s designs for the world and about God’s purposes, etc. The living word, is of course, not the scripture but Jesus Christ Himself, with Whom all Christians have a personal relationship. However, this relationship will not direct us to do things or to believe things that are contrary to what Gods has laid out in scripture.
As for Protestantism leading to liberalism, I would argue that the liberalness of many Protestants, like that of many Catholics, comes from a lack of fidelity to the scriptures, not from a belief in sola scriptura.
I think the primary difference between Protestant Christians (here I am thinking of evangelicals, not “protestants” such as unitarians, deists, etc.) and Muslims is that Christians see God as someone with Whom one can converse and relate to on a personal level. Sola scriptura was never meant to imply that one simply reads the rules and follows them without direct contact from God. The bible is not our sole connection to God. It is simply the ultimate reference for doctrine. Protestants see sola scriptura as meaning that God left us instructions that can be interpreted by the common man.
I will agree that the Bible does not contain exhaustive truth (i.e. it does not contain every single fact in the universe, as the silly “Bible Code” people suggest). Whether I should go to Shaw’s supermarket or Hannaford’s on a given day is not something I can figure out by reading Bible passages. And it is very possible that if it is important to God’s design which direction he wants me to go in, that he will direct me in that way, one way or another, without using a direct result of reading of the Bible to do so. (For example, he may just put it in my heart to go in one direction, or may manipulate circumstances so as to convince me to go in one direction).
Having said that, though, God will not direct me to do something that contradicts scripture, as he gave us scripture as a standard so that we may have an objective means to judge essential doctrines. In other words, humans are too imperfect a judge of God’s will to let them interpret his directions without some definite reference point.
Where this differs from Islam is that Islam does not see God as a Being to have a personal relationship with. They read scripture, but they do not have intimate conversations with God, and prayer is restricted to praise, not to communication as well as praise (as I understand it, I may be incorrect here). They see, I believe, reading scripture as their only link to God, whereas Protestants simply see it as the ultimate documentation of doctrine. Ultimately, the Muslim wants to be put into a glorious heaven, but despite the pleasures and the wonders and the holiness they believe to be there, they will still be separated from the impersonal God who put them there. Christians see a relationship with God, not just as a King, but as a Father and a Friend, as being inherent to heaven.
One more note: where Catholics argue Bible-idolatry, Protestants could argue institution-idolatry, in that Catholicism, in my view, tends toward bureaucratizing one’s relationship to God.
Mr. Auster, I am ashamed of you. Why have you allowed an uncivil poster to make comment with the ‘F’ word?
Matt’s idea that Protestantism is responsible for the West’s sympathy with Islam is belied by the facts on the ground. Namely, it is in “Catholic Europe” (France, Spain, Italy, and Austria) that you find the greatest number of Muslim immigrants and Islamic inroads into society. Conversely, it is in “Protestant Europe” (the Netherlands, Denmark, Germany, and even—recently—Great Britain) where you have found organized and vocal resistance to immigration in general and muslim immigration in particular.
And, just as an aside, if deciding upon sympapthy for Judaism or Islam is a significant indicator of overall attitudes, note that Protestantism has a specifically philosemetic component in its spiritual architecture, whereas the Roman Church has a history of continual hostility towards Jews. A Roman Catholic king, for example, expelled the Jews from England; Oliver Cromwell brought them back. Jews also found a welcome haven amongst Dutch Protestants. And, of course, it was in Protestant America that Jews found their most secure refuge. Even in Germany, the divide existed between the Protestant north and the Catholic south, where Nazism had its roots.
It has been a long time (nearly two years) since this discussion and the others we had at the time, but I don’t think my point was ever about contemporary sympathies. My point is that as an historical matter, Protestantism is an offshoot of Islam at least as much as of Christianity.
Take a bunch of lukewarm Catholics with personal motivations to rebel against the Faith. Mix in Islamic philosophy, including logocentrism, via interactions between Christian heretics (e.g. Wyclif) and the Moors. What you get is Martin Luther.
Again, the point isn’t about modern sympathies. Since Vatican II much of the Catholic Church has become de-facto Protestant, or at least universalist, itself. The predominant modern religion isn’t any form of Christianity; it is liberalism.
The specific point though is that Protestantism is, as a historical matter, a branch of Islam.
I only found out about the “F”-word wielding poster when Joan told me about him. Normally I receive an e-mail of each post as soon as it is posted. But sometimes there is a delay.
As for Matt’s recent comment, only at VFR are people called upon to defend opinions expressed two years ago. Which shows the enduring interest of the topics discussed at this site. :-)
Michael Jose wrote:
“However, the idea that tradition trumps scripture is, in my opinion, just a way to allow one’s self to incorporate one’s personal preferences into a religion.”
Well, if I had said at some point that tradition has *greater* authority than Scripture (and I may have, it is an old discussion with many threads and I haven’t reviewed them all) that would be incorrect. Scripture is indeed inerrant; but it is also incomplete.
I’ll attempt to clarify in a way that is economical with the available time and space.
Rather, it is that Scripture is quite literally meaningless without some source of meaning and context that comes from outside of itself. Words in themselves are just symbols on a page; they cannot express meaning without a meaning-context that is separate from the text itself and that comes from outside of the text. Postmodernism relativism - the text means whatever the reader wills it to mean - follows quite directly from “the Bible alone”, and is a direct result of logocentrism.
I’ve talked about the problem of sola scriptura (logocentrism) in a number of ways in the past, as well as its connection to Islam. Nearly a millennium before Martin Luther, Islam was the first major religion to make a book the very enter of its religion - to treat a book as the actual and complete revealed word of God. In this respect protestantism is the second major religion to do so, not the first. Islam swiped the Eucharist from Catholicism - the notion of being in the Real Presence during Mass - and applied it to the recitation of the Koran during Salat. For the Moslem listening the the recitation of the Koran was literally being in the presence of Allah and listening to Allah speak. It is from here that protestants get the notion of the direct connection to Christ through the book rather than through the sacraments.
Wyclif, Hus, and Luther revered Islam; they were very fond of its logocentrism and of what they thought of as its superiorities to the traditional Christianity of Rome. Martin Luther himself did the first-ever translation of the Koran from Arabic.
From a mathematical perspective sola scriptura is a violation of Godel’s Theorem. One can literally either believe in the validity of basic arithmetic, or sola scriptura, but not both. Most people don’t respond to that fact - in fact as far as I know the only person other than myself who has really responded to it is a math professor who did his own doctoral thesis on Godel. It took some serious work, but I finally proved it to his satisfaction, and for us math-heads it is some comfort that reality corresponds to belief at the most basic levels.
From a social perspective sola scriptura leads quite directly to postmodern relativism.
Mr. Jose said:
“…the idea that tradition trumps scripture is, in my opinion, just a way to allow one’s self to incorporate one’s personal preferences into a religion.”
If instead of “tradition trumps scripture” I take the liberty of substituting “scripture depends on tradition for valid interpretation” into Mr. Jose’s statement, the irony is that exactly the opposite of what he contends is the case. Without an authoritative tradition that guides what is and is not correct interpretation, a text in itself - a sola scriptura - is a way for persons to create a personal religion in which their opinions become religious truth. That is why there are 10,000 protestant sects and only one Roman Catholic Church, despite all its human warts. The Bible alone is not enough of a principle of unity to preserve actual, concrete unity.
The meaning-context that precedes any reading of the text has to come from somewhere. For a Protestant it comes from an internal Gnostic connection to truth (and the historical oddity of the Bible arising from Roman Catholicism is also explained in this way) - a Gnostic connection to Christ that the believer wills into existence in an act of faith. For a Catholic the connection to truth comes from outside the believer in the form of tradition, magisterial authority, and grace received through the sacraments.
That’s an excellent post by Matt. He expresses certain key ideas more clearly than I’ve seen them expressed before.
A few thoughts:
Neither I nor other evangelicals actually subscribe to the idea that scripture means whatever the reader wills it to mean. (There are of course, those who do).
As for sola scriptura, you are correct in essence that there has to be a context for interpreting it, so if sola scriptura is taken in a narrow literal sense, you are correct, it is wrong.
Parts of scripture should of course be interpreted in light of other scripture so as to be internally consistent, but this of course does not solve the Godel’s probelm, how to interpret the system (the Bible) outside of the system itself.
My answer is that outside of scripture, the context of the author and his writing of scripture must be taken into account, as well as common sense based on axiomatic understandings of reality.
Not that there won’t be disagreements on certain issues, but with an honest interpretation the most important issues should be interpreted the same.
I don’t trust magisterial authority and tradition for the simple fact that they are subject to change or influence from other factors. In essence, the text means whatever the person in power wants it to mean.
In other words, I do not see interpretation by tradition as inherently less subjective than “the text means whatever the reader wants it to mean.”
Interpretation requires study of scripture in its context, both that of other scripture, and of common sense understanding of words and concepts and of history, etc. While this too will be somewhat subjective, I think that if it is done honestly, it will tend to approach the truth closer than an apoproach based on human tradition and authority.
This debate seems to me to be similar to the debate over the constitution. I would wager that most of you would agree that an honest interpretation of what the constitution means based on common-sense understaning of words, of internal context, and of historical context, would give a much better idea of what the founders intended than relying on tradition (precedents) and authority (the courts).
I am no expert on Christian theology or sectarian differences, but it is impossible to accept Matt’s claims about Protestant sympathies for Islam, much less the improbable idea that Protestantism was as much an offshoot of Islam as of Christianity. At most, until very recently, Protestants were merely less hostile to Muslims than Catholics, simply because it was the latter who were in the line of fire in the wars with Islam. Nevertheless, sixteenth and seventeenth century Protestants celebrated the defeat of the Turks at Malta, Lepanto and Vienna. My own impression is that until well into the nineteenth century, very few Europeans of any sort, including deists and people openly contemptuous of Christianity, had any use for the Muslim religion.
By the way, medieval Catholic churchmen translated the Koran into Latin long before Luther!
“By the way, medieval Catholic churchmen translated the Koran into Latin long before Luther!”
Not to mention that it was the Arabic-speaking Hohenstaufen, the Holy Roman Emperor, Frederick II, quite a few centuries before the Reformation, who made the first great Western accommodation with Islam, giving Muslims a presence in Sicily and throughout Italy.
Mr. Jose writes:
“I don’t trust magisterial authority and tradition for the simple fact that they are subject to change or influence from other factors.”
Any authority is subject to such influences, though, including my own interior dispositions. Revelation comes to us from Christ mediated by wordly things - texts, traditions, other people (including our parents, from whom we learn most of our predispositions including the language in which we read Scripture), and our own fallen intellects. The question, it seems to me, isn’t whether or not there will be mediation and whether or not there will be immanent earthly authorities - including intellectual authorities - over us and which precede us. The question is just whether we will, given our context, place our trust in Christ. It seems to me that trusting in Christ includes trusting in the Church He established, the Scriptures which were placed into a canon by His Holy Church, the sacraments established by Him, etc — not that those things will always be impeccable in every respect, but that they will not teach as definite truth that which is in fact in error.
I agree that most Americans - including religious conservatives and Catholics - take a _sola scriptura_-like intellectual approach to the U.S. Constitution. _Sola constitution_, in my view, has problems quite similar to _sola scriptura_.
Mr. Levine wrote:
“My own impression is that until well into the nineteenth century, very few Europeans of any sort, including deists and people openly contemptuous of Christianity, had any use for the Muslim religion.”
Martin Luther, the founder of protestantism, surely did. He compares the Turks favorably against Christ Himself in his preface to the _Tract on the Religions and Customs of the Turks_, published in 1530:
“From this book, accordingly, we see that the religion of the Turks or Muhammad is far more splendid in ceremonies - and, I might almost say, in customs - than ours, even including that of the religious or all the clerics. The modesty and simplicity of their food, clothing, dwellings, and everything else, as well as the fasts, prayers, and common gatherings of the people that this book reveals are nowhere seen among us - or rather it is impossible for our people to be persuaded to them. Furthermore, which of our monks, be it a Carthusian (they who wish to appear the best) or a Benedictine, is not put to shame by the miraculous and wondrous abstinence and discipline among their religious? Our religious are mere shadows when compared to them, and our people clearly profane when compared to theirs. Not even true Christians, not Christ himself, not the apostles or prophets ever exhibited so great a display.”
That isn’t to say that Martin Luther wanted to be a Moslem. If he had, he would have just converted. But in any case, the notion that the founder of protestantism was ambivalent about Islam won’t stand up to history. It is quite obvious from Luther’s own words that his goal was at least in part a Christianity that was more like Islam.
That Luther contrasted the simplicity and modesty of Muslim practices with the overstuffed luxury of the RC Church, or at least the Papacy, of his day (a view widely shared north of the Alps) does not show he was seriously influenced by Islam. I would question even whether he was ambivalent about it. Note the later Lutherans contributed to the Empire’s wars against the Turks, while trying to use them to extract concessions from the Emperor. They did not want the Turks on their doorstep. Studies of European views of Islam, like “The Crescent and the Rose” and “The Great Map of Mankind” show that, while Turkish power may have been respected, Muslims were not loved, then or much later.
My most sincere thanks, Mr. Auster, for your attention to the ‘F’word as posted. I highly respect your judgement in these matters and do apprecite your position. Unfortunately, we live in a time of uncontrolled license to abuse the privilege of rightful and meaningful discussion.
Again, heartfelt thanks to you and the great work done on this very enlightening forum!
Luther initially taught that the Turks ought not be resisted; they were a punishment sent from God. He later changed his mind, doubtless at the prospect of personally living under Sharia. (I have to admit I am somewhat amused at the mental picture of Crusades mounted by a bunch of Lutherans). One thing about Luther, though: if you want to know what he believed, you have to ask in which year he believed it.
For a guy who wasn’t interested in Islam, Luther spent a lot of energy talking about it, sponsoring Peter the Venerable’s translation of the Koran (and even writing a preface for it), expressing admiration for the things he liked about it and disdain at their rejection of Christ’s divinity, etc.
I don’t think it is a stretch to say that Luther admired the philsophical approach of Islam but thought they were using the wrong book.
I can’t make people believe that, though, if they won’t take Luther himself at his word. I don’t know which would be a poorer interpretation: that Luther didn’t really admire the Turks but just said he did for political expediency, or that he really did believe the things he said about them.
Matt wrote: “I have to admit I am somewhat amused at the mental picture of Crusades mounted by a bunch of Lutherans.”
It doesn’t strike me as an odd thought. I occasionally attend a Lutheran Church in New York City that has special services on Sunday afternoons with traditional Bach Cantata performances and Luther’s music. A people who were inspired by Luther’s incredibly stirring “A Mighty Fortress is our God” (Ein Fester Burg ist Unser Gott) would be capable of overcoming any obstacle and meeting any foe. They would be warriors for God. The hymn conveys both the feeling of faith in God and the feeling of a _people_ joined together in that faith. Listening to and singing that hymn, I can visualize how the Protestant Reformation swept Northern Europe and transformed our civilization.
“Listening to and singing that hymn, I can visualize how the Protestant Reformation swept Northern Europe and transformed our civilization.”
Quite. I note that the Peasant Revolt and the Wars of Religion weren’t the crusade of a united Christendom against the Saracen, though. I would never suggest that Germans aren’t warlike.
A “religion of peace” apologist quotes disapprovingly from Martin Luther’s justification for translating the Koran: “Martin Luther promoted and wrote a preface to a 1543 Latin edition of the Koran by Theodore Bibliander, saying ‘I have wanted to get a look at a complete text of the Qur’an. I do not doubt that the more other pious and learned persons read these writings, the more the errors and the name of Muhammad will be refuted. For just as the folly, or rather madness, of the Jews is more easily observed once their hidden secrets have been brought out into the open, so once the book of Muhammad has been made public and thoroughly examined in all its parts, all pious persons will more easily comprehend the insanity and wiles of the devil and will be more easily able to refute them.’” This is from http://www.gvnews.net/html/Opinion/alert637.html
The only Luther reference to the Koran I could find in his commentaries was: “The Jew imagines he is doing the will of God if he concentrates on the Law of Moses. The Mohammedan thinks his Koran is the will of God. The monk fancies he is doing the will of God if he performs his vows. But they deceive themselves and become ‘vain in their imaginations ,’ as Paul says, Romans 1:21. Instead of worshipping the true God, they worship the vain imaginations of their foolish hearts.” This was from his commentary on Galatians as found at http://www.gospelcom.net/eword/comments/galatians/luther/galatians4.htm
Perhaps Luther’s praise for the orderly, righteous civil society of the Turks can be tempered by reading the totality of his writings on them so as to not misinterpret. For example, from a sermon about religious and civil law: “It must be universally admitted that the Turks, with all the restrictions and austerity of life imposed upon them by the Koran, a life more rigorous even than that of Christians—it must be admitted they belong to the devil. In other words, we adjudge them condemned with all their righteousness, but at the same time say they do right in punishing thieves, robbers, murderers, drunkards and other …” This can be found at http://www.ccel.org/ccel/luther/sermons.all.html
Perhaps I could gain the imprimatur of Rome if I only quoted from this context the phrase “the Turks, with all the restrictions and austerity of life imposed upon them by the Koran, a life more rigorous even than that of Christians…”
Other good sources might be “A Campaign Sermon Against the Turks” from 1529, and “Admonition to Prayer Against the Turks” from 1541. A quote from the former is found at http://www.ctsfw.edu/library/files/pb/633 and reads as follows: “I must here be of encouragement and give a word of comfort to those Germans who already have been captured or may still be captured in Turkey … they should be patient in captivity and remain firm in the faith until the time of their redemption, in order that they may not be scandalized by the Babylonian faith and worship … ” and again from the same sermon: “Our faith is distinguished from all other beliefs on earth. The Jews don’t have it, the Turks and Saracens also do not, furthermore a Papist or false christian or any other unbeliever does not have it but only the orthodox Christian.” The same web source comments that Luther translated from Latin to German a tract entitled “Confutatio Alcorum” (Confutation of the Koran) by the Italian Dominican monk Ricardo, circa 1320 A.D. in the original.
I am not a Lutheran, but I found the charges against Luther rather amazing. My experience is that a simple use of a search engine gives a picture far different than taking a quote out of context that praises something about Turkish ways and misinterpreting it, as is the style of Roman Catholic propaganda. If someone today were quoted as saying, “Well, one thing I noticed when traveling through Muslim lands is they don’t have people selling pornography in every bookstore. I wish I could say the same for America”, I suppose we could make them out to be great lovers of Islam. That seems to be all the substance that has been presented so far about Luther and Islam.
Not to draw too fine a point on it, but if Matt can visualize the Lutherans as Crusaders against Catholicism (which they actually were), why can’t he visualize them as Crusaders against Islam? In other words, what is the non-Crusader-like quality of the Lutherans that Matt was intimating in his earlier post?
Mr. Coleman has thrown down the gauntlet to Matt!
Mr. Auster writes, “Mr. Coleman has thrown down the gauntlet to Matt!” Well, I try not to phrase things in quite that personal a way. I find common cause with Lutherans, Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, and others with whom I have theological differences (even some Orthodox Jews!) when the general subject is politics. The subject often drifts into theological differences, and I find that Christians of all stripes have a fondness for ahistorical claims. My own theological home (in which I am a voice in the wilderness in some respects) has the opposite problem, so common in evangelical and fundamentalist circles, of giving little time to the study of history at all, which is the ultimate safeguard against making misleading statements about history, I suppose. If one believes that one’s church sprang forth directly from the pages of the Bible, then one need not examine ecclesiastical history at all, leading to a general historical ignorance in such circles. I resist that flaw and try to broaden the horizons of my fellow evangelical Christians to an appreciation of other histories and hermeneutics than their own, sometimes to some avail.
I do admit to a special revulsion at Roman Catholic polemic, although there are “Table Talk” episodes of Luther’s than will rival just about anything in the revulsion department. And I would at least agree with Matt on one thing: You have to specify the year when quoting what Luther believed about something. Still, the supposed dependence of Luther on Islam sounds like a terrific stretch to me.
An interesting paragraph found when searching the web concerning John Wycliffe and the Koran: “For Wycliffe the Bible was the sole authority in all matters religious or secular. He held a peculiar notion, derived from his extreme scholastic realism, of the Bible as the earthly embodiment of the uncreated word of God, an eternal Bible in heaven which reflected as in a mirror the second person of the Trinity, the Logos, the Word. This is a Muslim idea, the uncreated Koran, and appears in Wycliffe for the first time in the West. Although it ceased to be held in so extreme a form, this notion does go far to explain the bibliolatry of English Protestantism. Wycliffe too was responsible for the first complete translation of the Bible into English. Its effect was such that the Church forbade unauthorized bibles in English and eventually, for a time, the private possession of vernacular bibles of any sort.” This was found at http://www.bopsecrets.org/rexroth/communalism2.htm
At first, the author ascribes Wycliffe’s belief to “extreme scholastic realism”, and then he says this is “a Muslim idea.” Interesting. Does anyone know if Wycliffe actually read the Koran or referred to it?
Mr. Coleman writes in his post of “April 7, 2004 08:00 PM, “Perhaps I could gain the imprimatur of Rome if I only quoted from this context the phrase ‘the Turks, with all the restrictions and austerity of life imposed upon them by the Koran, a life more rigorous even than that of Christians…’”
Mr. Auster wrote:
“In other words, what is the non-Crusader-like quality of the Lutherans that Matt was intimating in his earlier post?”
Theological unity; though it was just an offhand comment (which I suppose after two years or so I ought to know better than to toss out at VFR!)
I don’t see it. It isn’t as though an Islam-Protestantism connection is or ever has been standard-issue Catholic polemic. Any actual examples of that?
On Mr. Coleman’s question of the connection between Wycliff and Islam, I used to have some helpful references to Moorish trade with and mutual influence on the English at Oxford. I haven’t looked at this in a few years - it did after all just pop up here from some old comments. I think the evidence of Islamic influence on Wycliff, Hus, and Luther is there for the finding, and that as time goes by it will become less controversial. Of course if one’s disposition is that unless there is a smoking gun - say where Martin Luther writes to his cousin and says “sola scriptura, what a great idea of the Saracen’s uncovered by the Bohemians, lets use it!” - that unless there is a smoking gun like that there is no connection, well then we may as well not discuss intellectual history at all.
That isn’t to say one ought to be convinced based on what little is here. But to treat Luther’s own words as the passing comments of a tourist being used as standard-issue counter-reformation propoganda is itself no small stretch. Certainly they didn’t teach us to suggest a connection between Islam and Protestantism in my Propogating Catholic Propoganda class in Parochial school in the 1970’s.
Well, I’ve been piqued by this Protestantism/Islam thesis of Matt’s before, but I think the only way I’m going to get a handle on it is to do some real reading. It’s not the kind of thing that one can decide from a few quotes. I found some of Matt’s quotes of Luther fascinating. However, I also think Mr. Coleman made a plausible case that Luther’s negative comments on Islam outweighed the positive ones.
Perhaps I misunderstood what Mr. Coleman said. My the quote brought to my mind the universalism of the modern Roman Catholic Church.
Or put it this way: At least the general “tone” of statements and actions of the Pope, RC Church princes, and RC Church spokesmen has been consistent with the “tone” of Mr. Colemen’s abridgement of Luther. I would be surprised to hear a RC Church official say something like the Luther quote in its entirety, namely, “It must be universally admitted that the Turks, with all the restrictions and austerity of life imposed upon them by the Koran, a life more rigorous even than that of Christians—it must be admitted they belong to the devil.”
I certainly agree with Joshua that a statement like that from a modern Roman churchman is unlikely! The statement itself is suggestive of the notion that Luther thought the main problem with the Turks was that they were not Lutherans; but that other than that they were to be emulated and admired.
Again, my little thesis - which I’ve never seen anywhere else, so it can’t be claimed that it is standard-issue Papist polemic - isn’t that the Reformers wanted to become Moslems. Moslems, after all, were not Christian; and the later Luther encouraged the fight against them, as I mentioned in a post above. What the reformers wanted was to create a Christianity that was still Christian, but which was much more like Islam in practice and philosophy. In other words, a Bible-based Islam rather than a Koran-based Islam.
You find this throughout Luther’s writings, in many of the places where Moslems are mentioned: Moslems are better than Papists in every way, but they are still the enemy because they are not Lutheran Christians.
I agree with Joshua about the tendency toward indifferentist universalism in the modern Roman Church. For those who follow the civil war within the Roman Church closely, David Palm’s recent article is a must-read:
One can find occasional admiring comments, in the sixteenth century, about Turkish power and the orderliness of the Turkish realm from CATHOLICS, and even admissions that there was sympathy among the lower classes, in some places near the Turkish frontier, for the Ottomans because the latter seemed to treat their peasants better and were somewhat more “egalitarian” as far as social mobility went. Such things were if even anything less frequent among Protestants. Both sorts of Christian basically regarded the Turks as a menace and Islam as a foe. My own impression is that even Jews did not care much for the Ottomans, though the latter treated Jews quite decently, and much better than almost all European Christians of the time.
An occasional comment into the microphone is different from the sort of interest involved in publishing whole books, writing prefaces, and insuring that the Koran is published in Latin though (and it would not have been if Luther had not been wholeheartedly behind it). And remember, Luther argued *against* fighting the Turk early in his career; it was only after the practical aspects of failing to resist the Turk imposed themselves upon him that he changed his tune. Rather similar to some modern paleos, in fact.
“I don’t think Luther was interested in the Turks” doesn’t constitute a refutation of Luther’s own corpus; though I do understand that Protestants would want to underplay any such connection.
Matt, regarding my post of April 7, 2004 08:47 PM: I have re-read Mr. Coleman’s post of April 7, 2004 08:00 PM and his subsequent posts, and I now believe that his intention of the paragraph which I quoted in my post of 2004 08:47 PM was to mock what he asserts to be a polemical tactic, used especially by Roman Catholic apologists, of quoting selectively. I did not mean to second this opinion; I have not read enough Roman Catholic apologetics or propaganda to have an opinion whether or not such a tactic is commonly used. Mea Culpa.
Joshua, for my part I don’t disagree with Mr. Coleman about the existence/employment of selective quoting in boilerplate polemic. I just take exception to the implication that an Islamic intellectual/ideological connection to Wycliffe, Hus, and Luther is itself boilerplate polemic. I’ve never seen it anywhere other than in my own head (which isn’t to say it isn’t out there, just that it isn’t exactly a canard). In the case of Hus I don’t know of (though I don’t rule out) any direct intellectual interaction with Islam; he was more of a disciple of Wycliffe’s, a carrier of Lollard tendencies to Bohemia. In the case of Wycliffe I have seen some evidence of permanent trading-post settlements by Moors in Oxford and of their interaction with the Oxford professors, although I don’t have the references immediately to hand so I can’t put them up for evaluation, unfortunately. (The fact that we English-speakers use Arabic numnerals is at least suggestive though). As I recall they tend to come more from histories of Islam than from histories of the Reformation: the history of Islam in England and Spain is the direction of inquiry, since most of what I have seen out there on Wycliffe glosses over his personal history before he became Oxford’s leading theologian and apologist for State power.
Luther is another matter; much of his stuff is not readily available on-line in English for a quick google, but he did write a good bit about the Turks that was thematically consistent: in his view they were better than Christians - even than the Apostles and Christ Himself in the quote I provided above - morally and in religious practice, but were fatally flawed in the fact that they use the wrong holy Book and thus belong to the Devil.
So anyway, that is a long-winded way of saying “no worries”. An Islamic root of _sola scriptura_ specifically isn’t something that someone is going to become convinced of by reading a comment thread, and I don’t expect that. Also though it isn’t part of some “how to zing the protestants” tract anywhere, at least as far as I am aware.
“An occasional comment into the microphone is different from the sort of interest involved in publishing whole books, writing prefaces, and insuring that the Koran is published in Latin though (and it would not have been if Luther had not been wholeheartedly behind it).”
I already posted a quote from Luther about the translation and publication of the Koran: “I have wanted to get a look at a complete text of the Qur’an. I do not doubt that the more other pious and learned persons read these writings, the more the errors and the name of Muhammad will be refuted. For just as the folly, or rather madness, of the Jews is more easily observed once their hidden secrets have been brought out into the open, so once the book of Muhammad has been made public and thoroughly examined in all its parts, all pious persons will more easily comprehend the insanity and wiles of the devil and will be more easily able to refute them.”
In light of this quote, why would Matt be citing the translation of the Koran, writing a preface for the translation, etc., as evidence of Luther’s respect for Islam and/or the Koran?
Luther’s publication of a translation of the Koran clearly shows his interest in and knowledge of Islam, contra claims in this thread that he had no significant interest in or knowledge of Islam. Luther’s publication of the _Tract on the Religion and Customs of the Turks_ (the quote I provided above is from the preface he wrote) was expressly for the purpose of showing how much better the Turks were in religious practice (in his view) than Christians. He says this very clearly in the preface; I looked for a copy on-line but one does not seem to be available.
So two counterclaims are refuted:
1) The claim that Luther had no interest in or significant knowledge of Islam except as a passing thing; and
2) That Luther did not compare Islam favorably to Christianity in terms of religious practice, not to be confused with doctrinal content.
As I mentioned a number of times, Luther rejected the _content_ of Islam - it was not, after all, Christian - while at the same time he admired its approach and practice.
Mr. Coleman provided this quote as well:
“It must be universally admitted that the Turks, with all the restrictions and austerity of life imposed upon them by the Koran, a life more rigorous even than that of Christians—it must be admitted they belong to the devil.” (etc.; it is above in Mr. Coleman’s post).
In other words, DESPITE the superiority of their religious practice it must be admitted that the Turks adhere to a false religion. This attitude toward the Turks can be found throughout Luther’s writing. Including, if one looks, in Luther quotes provided in this thread by people other than myself.
Here is another quote from Luther’s Preface to the _Tract on the Religion and Customs of the Turks_. I hauled it up out of an old file on my hard drive. I don’t have the full original handy, but the gist is in the previous quote and this one:
“For this reason, therefore, we are publishing this book and thrusting it in the face of the opponents of the gospel, so that, confused as they are in their own foolish opinions, they might actually experience and feel with their own hands that what the gospel teaches is true. For the gospel teaches that the Christian religion is by far something other and more sublime than showy ceremonies, tonsures, hoods, pale countenances, fasts, feasts, canonical hours, and the entire show of the Roman church throughout the world. Indeed, in all these things the Turks are by far superior.”
Again, Luther deliberately set out to create a Christianity that was more like Islam, but with the Bible as its basis. And he did not hide that fact; he was in quite specific.
—For the gospel teaches that the Christian religion is by far something other and more sublime than showy ceremonies, tonsures, hoods, pale countenances, fasts, feasts, canonical hours, and the entire show of the Roman church throughout the world. Indeed, in all these things the Turks are by far superior.”—
But this is a quote that seems merely to apply to the Reformation’s tendency towards Iconoclasm, which reached its apex with the Puritans. Granted, Islam also adopts this view—in some sects. But Iconoclasm also held sway with the church in Byzantium for a period of time—long before Islam existed.
I should note too that when I originally got that specific document two years ago I got it from a Lutheran institution, though at this point I don’t recall where. There are probably more searchable Lutheran archives on-line in German than in English. I don’t know German, but someone who did might be able to find more on-line material rather than this old fashioned paper and ink stuff.
Whether the whole thesis holds up or not is one thing. But two points are established:
1) Luther took an interest in Islam, knew quite a bit about it, and engaged in several Islam-related intellectual/polemic/translation projects. When it came to Islam he was not just a passing tourist making a quick comment.
2) He considered the religious practice (not doctrine) of the Turks to be superior to that of Christians. He contrasted the religious practice of the Turks favorably to that of Roman Catholicism specifically. “Indeed, in all these things the Turks are by far superior.”
The lack of basic reading comprehension here is approaching the level of absurdity. Luther obviously objected to the showiness and pomp and superficiality of the Roman Catholicism of his day. He replies that Christianity has a glory far above all that, and besides, the Turks are better at all that stuff than the Romans are, anyway. From this Matt concludes: “He considered the religious practice (not doctrine) of the Turks to be superior to that of Christians.” If Matt wants to understand whether this is a compliment directed towards the Muslims, he first needs to understand Luther’s attitude towards “showy ceremonies, tonsures, hoods, pale countenances, fasts, feasts, canonical hours, and the entire show of the Roman church throughout the world.” I suggest that it differs from the Roman Catholic view of such things, and thus to say that the Turks are better at it than the Romans is not a compliment from the pen of Luther.
Matt wrote: “But two points are established:” and then proceeds to give two points that have NOT been established. First comes the straw man: “Luther took an interest in Islam, knew quite a bit about it, and engaged in several Islam-related intellectual/polemic/translation projects. When it came to Islam he was not just a passing tourist making a quick comment.” I have searched the thread trying to find where anyone said that Luther had little interest in or knowledge of Islam. It seems to first appear at 7:23 PM on April 7 in a post by Matt himself, as a straw man invention there: “For a guy who did not take very much interest in Islam …”. If the idea was ever expressed by anyone else in the thread besides Matt, I guess I missed it on review. There was a single statement that prior to the last couple of centuries, very few Christians “had much use” for Islam, but that is a pejorative towards Islam, not a statement about their knowledge or interest, and it was not made about Luther specifically but about Protestants in general.
Then comes the second point, already dealt with in my previous post this morning.
Might I suggest that Matt engage in some self-examination and come to understand why this particular topic puts him into the realm of irrationality? It seems uncharacteristic of his posts on other topics.
I’m hesitant to get involved in a debate about quotations when I haven’t read the original texts, but it seems to me that Mr. Coleman’s comment of 8:36 a.m. is off-base. Obviously when Luther praised Islam’s practice, he was not praising it for its superiority in “showy ceremonies.” If he had been doing that, that would mean he approved of showy ceremonies, when, of course, he disapproved of them. Therefore when he praised Islamic practice he was praising it for the fact that it was _not_ showy.
In other words, Mr. Coleman seems to be suggesting that when Luther mentioned “showy cermonies” and noted Islam’s superiority in that regard, Luther was saying that, since he didn’t like showy ceremonies, therefore Islam did not compare well with Christiantiy. Mr. Coleman is seeking to acquit Luther of the charge of preferring Islamic practice. But Luther was not comparing the Church and Islam with regard to their practice of showy ceremonies; he was comparing them with regard to their _practice_, and for Luther _good_ practice meant purity and simplicity of practice. Therefore, it seems to me, Luther was saying that Islamic practice was superior to Christian practice.
Mr. Auster’s take is correct. Luther’s whole purpose in publishing the _Tract on the Religion and Customs of the Turks_ was to show how Islamic religious practice was superior to Roman Catholic practice. He makes that quite clear in the preface he wrote for the book, from which the two quotes I gave are taken.
Mr. Coleman’s take on how the discussion unfolded and on various parties’ reading comprehension may or may not have merit, but in any case it isn’t really relevant. What is relevant are the objective answers to the following questions:
1) Did Luther have an extensive interest in and knowledge of Islam?
2) Did Luther say that Islamic religious practice - not doctrine, but religious practice - was superior to contemporary Christian religious practice?
3) Is this attitude - rejection of Islamic doctrine alongside grudging admiration of Islamic religious practice - found throughout Luther’s writings in many of the places where Islam is mentioned?
The answer to the first two of those questions is an unqualified yes. The answer to the third is more qualitative, and one has to come to his own judgement on that after reading more Luther.
Of course beyond that, in determining the validity of my thesis, lie many other questions. For example, did Luther admire the Turks because the enemy of my enemy is my friend, or was his admiration the result of what he thought to be a genuine objective evaluation? If it was cynical rather than genuine then how much of Luther’s writing in general is cynical rather than geniune (in other words, is Luther more of a Vonnegut or a Liebnitz as an author)? If it is genuine then how much of his admiration for Islam came from the logocentric similarity between thier theology and his? And perhaps most importantly was his and/or Wycliffe’s logocentrism a _result_ of interaction with Islam or is the parallel incidental?
I started to look at these questions some time ago, but I dropped the hobby for various reasons and I am not (yet, though at some time I may be) in a position to give a doctoral dissertation on it.
But Luther did know a good bit about Islam, and he did say that Islamic religious practice was better than contemporary Christian religious practice. Furthermore he didn’t say this as a passing comment; he engaged in at least one major translation and publication project for which he stated explicitly that it was his purpose to make known this contrast.
“1) Did Luther have an extensive interest in and knowledge of Islam?”
Yes, and no one in this thread has ever said otherwise, as far as I can see.
“2) Did Luther say that Islamic religious practice - not doctrine, but religious practice - was superior to contemporary Christian religious practice?”
As was quoted, Luther praised the “austerity of life” of the Turks and contrasted it favorably
with Christian life in his era, as being “more rigorous”. It would be possible for someone to say the same thing today without having any great admiration in general for Muslims, and it would not follow that that person was deriving any key hermeneutics or practices from the Muslims.
“3) Is this attitude - rejection of Islamic doctrine alongside grudging admiration of Islamic religious practice - found throughout Luther’s writings in many of the places where Islam is mentioned?”
I am not a Lutheran, much less a Luther scholar, so I don’t know how frequent his references to Islam are. Only someone who has read far more of Luther than I have would have an intuitive feel for the weight given to the subject of Islam.
What little I have read of Luther includes some pretty nasty stuff directed at the Roman Catholic church. In certain passages, the language compares the Catholic leaders unfavorably to heathens and unbelievers, etc. Perhaps the circumstances of Luther’s life led to great bitterness. However, I don’t take these passages that compare Catholics unfavorably to heathens to be a great admiration for heathens, and I take his comparisons of Catholics to “Turks” to be primarily a slam against Catholics rather than primarily a praise of Turks. This is based in part on the extremely negative language employed in some of his references to Turks.
Back to the real point of the discussion: Did Luther derive a “sola scriptura” doctrine from Islam? In order to answer that, we must somehow be able to distinguish between the following two scenarios:
A) Luther becomes disenchanted with certain Roman Catholic practices, studies and contemplates them, realizes that the practices that he abhors are unbiblical, however long their tradition in the Roman church, and concludes that “sola scriptura” is the way out of the mess. As he reads various religious authors, including Muslims, he realizes that the Muslims have something like “sola scriptura” and expresses admiration for it.
B) Luther is a faithful Roman Catholic who starts to read the Koran, or other Muslim writings, or writings about Islam by outsiders, or whatever. There he discovers “sola scriptura” and is taken by the idea. He tries to apply that new-found idea to his current concerns in the Roman church, and thus ends up producing the Protestant Reformation, which is therefore an indirect offshoot of Islam.
If anyone can provide any quotes that would lead someone to believe scenario B, I would be interested to see them. Nothing of the kind has been provided so far. Scenario A is the accepted view of history concerning Luther’s basic conflict with the Roman church, and is entirely plausible, so I see no need to doubt it until actual evidence is provided.
I am not entirely clear on the meaning of Mr. Coleman’s last post. Is he answering my question #2 in the affirmative now?
Also I think Mr. Coleman’s synopses are a bit oversimplified. It is possible of course that Luther simply invented _sola scriptura_ out of whole cloth as Mr. Coleman suggests in his first scenario. More than likely though he was influenced in his thinking by Wycliffe, Hus, von Staupitz, Linacre, Erasmus, and yes his own direct knowledge of Islam, among other things.
As I mentioned, I did have some suggestive references about the Moorish connection to Oxford. If I ever get my library back together from a long-distance move I may provide some of those.
But if the gist of Mr. Coleman’s last post is that we now agree to my first two points about Luther, but perhaps not on their implications, then that is probably the best that can be expected at this point. Recall that those two points are:
1) Luther had extensive knowledge of and interest in Islam; and
2) Luther expressly stated that Islamic religious practice was superior to contemporary Christian practice. He stated this not in a passing comment, but as part of a significant publishing/translation/polemic project. His exact words (translated to English) were “Indeed, in all these things the Turks are by far superior.”
Perhaps we can agree that these two assertions, at least, are factually true.
Regarding Mr. Auster’s most recent post, it is hard to interpret what Luther meant without significantly more context than I have been given. I can see how Mr. Auster and Matt would interpret it the way they do, but I guess my knowledge of Islamic practices today colored my interpretation.
Luther mentioned “feasts and fasts”, which Islam practices to at least as great an extent as Roman Catholicism does. He mentions robes and hoods and so on, but the imams and caliphs and so on throughout Islamic history wore fancy robes, etc., in public services, as various imams do today. Perhaps they don’t compare to the vestments of Rome; I don’t know for sure. I take “pale countenances” to be a critical reference to people looking pale while they fast, in which case I see little difference between Muslim fasting and any other, but it could refer to something else. I am honestly not sure what “canonical hours” are, so I don’t know whether that phrase is obviously out of step with Islam or not. A common Reformation criticism of the showiness of Rome was to point out the lavishness of certain churches while the members were in poverty; I don’t know off hand if Luther joined in that criticism, but Islam was no different, with some pretty impressive mosques in towns of nothing else but mud-brick huts.
Perhaps Luther meant that Islam is nearly the opposite of Rome in all these regards, but in that case I would say he is mistaken. I interpreted his ambiguous statement in such a way as to make sense given what I know of Islam, rather than to not make sense, but he could well have had a superficial knowledge of Islam, or I could as well.
Luther seems to have been tragically deceived. He incited horrific religious hatred merely because he refused to remain obedient. He could have continued his impressive intellectual efforts at reforming some awful practices by some awful Church leaders. He might have been put to death. But the risk of death is not a reason to give up one’s faith in Church doctrine, not that Luther feared death or I do not fear death sometimes.
Luther chose schism, where many are put to death instead of one. He could have gone to his grave and might have been sainted in later years as was St. Joan of Arc. Or he might have received a belated apology as did Galileo. The Church was not the Gestapo; he had leeway.
The Church encourages no illusion that being Catholic is easy. Luther, it appears, failed to accept this.
The first Luther quote I posted above provides enough context to help Mr. Coleman determine the right interpretation of the second, it seems to me. Luther not only says that Moslem practice is better than Christian practice; he also says that that is the reason why “so many” (his words) Christians convert to Islam. Here it is again:
“From this book, accordingly, we see that the religion of the Turks or Muhammad is far more splendid in ceremonies — and, I might almost say, in customs — than ours, even including that of the religious or all the clerics. The modesty and simplicity of their food, clothing, dwellings, and everything else, as well as the fasts, prayers, and common gatherings of the people that this book reveals are nowhere seen among us — or rather it is impossible for our people to be persuaded to them. Furthermore, which of our monks, be it a Carthusian (they who wish to appear the best) or a Benedictine, is not put to shame by the miraculous and wondrous abstinence and discipline among their religious? Our religious are mere shadows when compared to them, and our people clearly profane when compared to theirs. Not even true Christians, not Christ himself, not the apostles or prophets ever exhibited so great a display. This is the reason why many persons so easily depart from faith in Christ for Muhammadanism and adhere to it so tenaciously. I sincerely believe that no papist, monk, or cleric or their equal in faith would be able to remain in their faith if they should spend three days among the Turks. Here I mean those who seriously desire the faith of the pope and who are the best among them.” — Martin Luther, preface to the _Tract on the Religions and Customs of the Turks_
If I manage to find the whole preface I may scan it in and post it; but what is here seems to be sufficient for present purposes.
Actually, I apologize. The quote I just posted includes more material than the one I posted before, which cuts off after “so great a display”. But in the extended quote Luther clearly says that the primary reason for (what he saw as significant enough to call “so many”) Christian apostasies to Islam is the superiority of Islamic religious practice. Perhaps that will persuade Mr. Coleman that Luther saw Islamic religious practice as superior to Christian religious practice.
Thanks for the lengthy quote from Matt about Luther’s view of the Turks. The longer context certainly makes his view more clear. His use of “splendid” was confusing to me, but that might be a problem in translation from the German; “splendid” does not usually mean “simpler”, but he is obviously commending the Turks for less showiness and more simplicity in their practices.
He certainly saw this simplicity of practice as superior to the more showy (as he saw it) Roman practices. Were there really a large number of conversions to Islam that were not coerced in that era, or was he grinding an axe by claiming so?
In any case, I hope to someday distinguish between the two scenarios mentioned at the end of my 12:21 PM post from April 9. That gets us back to the center of the original issue: Did Luther derive sola scriptura from Islam, directly or indirectly? We could substitute “Hus” or “Wycliffe” or any other influence upon Luther for “Luther” in those scenarios.
I have difficulty seeing that Mohommadanism subscribes to _sola sciptura_ of some type or another. Does not Islam assert as authoritative, even divinely inspired, the Sharia and the Hadith Reports, both of which are conceded to be the product of human compilation? (I am not a expert on Islam, so my arguments here may well be in error.) In addition, Shi’itism (Shiitism? Shiaism?) teaches that the line of Imans decending from Mohommad were inerant in their actions and teachings.
Well, as to whether Islam is a _sola koran_ religion that is a large topic: so large that there is probably as much material on the authority of the Koran for Moslems (and what that actually means) as there is on the authority of the Bible for Protestants (and what that actually means). The most I can do in a short comment is give a quick summary, and a google search on “authority of the Quran” is probably as productive as one on “authority of the Bible”, e.g.
Just about any good text on Islam will provide some sort of theological overview of how Moslems view the text of the Koran: as the uncreated, eternally existing Word of God that was revealed to Mohammed by the angel Gabriel. As the completion of revelation, where all previous revelation is incomplete and all supposed introductions from the outside are heresy. As the rule by which everything in the Moslem faith is to be ultimately judged. The Logos of the Gospel of John - the “Word of God” in its deceptive English translation - is not Christ in this view but is the text of revelation (the Koran to Moslems, the Bible to Protestants). Moslems believe that they are literally in the real Presence of Allah when the Koran is recited in Salat; so if anything most of Protestantism has a sort of _sola scriptura lite_ compared to Islam (which makes sense if in fact sola scriptura Protestantism is the result of an attempt to remain Christian while swiping some theology from Islam in order to avoid being Catholic).
Both Islam and sola-scriptura Protestantism believe that a specific text is:
1) The literal word of God, in the case of Islam to an extent even greater than most protestants other than those with extremist views mirroring those of Wycliffe.
2) The ultimate measure against which traditions and human authorities are to be judged.
That isn’t to say that there are not traditions and heirarchs in both Protestantism and Islam, nor that there aren’t differences between Protestantism and Islam in addition to the actual content of the text that forms the ultimate basis for each religion. But Islam was practicing _sola koran_ nearly a millenium before the Reformation.
In Islam you don’t find a lot of argument over whether or not the Koran is the ultimate rule of faith against which all else is tested, because the point isn’t controversial in Islam the way it is in Christianity. You do find plenty of discussion over the implications, though.
Part of the problem is that sola scriptura (as practiced by both Moslems and fundamentalist Protestants) is rationally incoherent at a basic level. That means that it only survives in the real world by making *unprincipled exceptions* to its own demands. And Islam has had nearly 1000 years longer than protestantism to develop its unprincipled exceptions.
There is a reason, though, that Moslems have always called themselves “people of the book”. That reason is _sola koran_.
I should clarify that when I say “The literal word of God” above I mean “literally God’s Word” not “God’s Word meant to be interpreted literally”. Sola Scriptura of both the Moslem and Protestant sort concede that Scripture need not always be meant literally. Both sorts do believe that the completeness of revelation (what Catholics would call the Deposit of the Faith) comes to us complete in the form of a text.
Matt wrote: “There is a reason, though, that Moslems have always called themselves “people of the book””
The term as used in the Koran denotes Christians and Jews, not Mohammedans. This is a simple point, known by any who have even a smattering of knowlege on the subject. Matt’s statement here typifies the others he has made above it.
Actually they call themselves, Jews, and Christians all “people of the book”, as juxtaposed to pagans. Initially Moslems did not even know the difference between Jews and Christians, in fact. Early Moslems viewed Jews and Christians as people of the book who were using the wrong one, much as Luther viewed Moslems.
If Mr. LeFevre has an informed criticism of my other comments - or if perhaps he wants to take an argument directly to the Luther quotes I provided - he is welcome to post it.
Yes, I’d like to cross swords with Matt on this, subject only to time availability. Perhaps Matt could provide some evidence that Mohammedans use this term to refer to themselves. I searched quite a bit on this before posting, and could no evidence to that effect at all. :-)
I think it is in the Karen Anderson book _Mohammed_, at least if I recall correctly. It may be in the _Oxford History of Islam_. Or somewhere else. My Islam books are presently all in boxes.
Suppose it is simply wrong though that “people of the book” has an inclusive, what-we-have-in-common sense in early Islamic history before Mohammed came to hate the Jews and started facing Mecca rather than Jerusalem during Salat; an inclusive sense that makes Moslems (theoretically) treat Jews and Christians with more respect than pagans because “of the book” is what they have in common. If the methodology is to be that when a claim is made, if a quick Google search doesn’t find immediate support for it then “gotcha”, everything that has been said up to that point is invalid then I am not sure how productive a discussion it will be. That approach is also rather unlike Mr. LeFevre’s ordinary approach. Perhaps I should simply wait for a few months until I have my library fully reassembled before continuing.
I acknowledge, by the way, that I owe Mr. LeFevre the evidence he asked for on the specific point. What I object to is this statement of his:
“Matt’s statement here typifies the others he has made above it.”
He also said:
“This is a simple point, known by any who have even a smattering of knowlege on the subject.”
And perhaps that is indeed the problem, though perhaps not quite in the way Mr. LeFevre intended: what a smattering of knowledge and quick access to Google does to a discussion.
Matt is correct in his assertion that Mohommadans believe that the Koran is the unmediated and pre-existing word of God. Edward Gibbon, in his masterpiece, _The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire_, thus treats the Mohommadan doctrine of the Koran:
“But Mahomet was content with a character, more humble, yet more sublime, of a simple editor; the substance of the Koran, according to himself or his disciples, is uncreated and eternal; subsisting in the essence of the Deity, and inscribed with a pen of light on the table of his everlasting decrees.”
Later in same paragraph on the Koran, Gibbon criticizes the doctrine of the Koran as God’s word, unmediated through any human author, thus:
“If the composition of the Koran exceed the faculties of a man to what superior intelligence should we ascribe the Iliad of Homer, or the Philippics of Demosthenes?”
The entire long paragraph on the Koran from _The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire_ is here:
In reply to Matt: My assertion on the use of that term comes from my own reading of the Koran, where it’s clearly shown what that statement means, and also studying Mohammedanism generally. I have spent a good deal of time on that, and NEVER saw any such definition as Matt gave.
My search on google, which wasn’t ‘quick,’ was an attempt to find ANY information to the contrary, which I would have missed along the way. The search turned up nothing, leaving in place only the definition as made by the Koran itself, as all previous study had indicated. Every site I looked at, whether Mohammedan or rebuttal sites, all clarified the same: the term is used to denote Jews and Christians. So if Matt has some info, I will gladly look into it. I am not above recanting when shown to be in error. For Matt to reduce my criticism to a foundation no greater than a quick google search — in the absense of any evidence to support his claim — makes for good debate tactic and little else. But I’ll give Matt the same benefit of the doubt he has given me. ;-)
My final statement that Matt criticizes was intended as prelude to further comments, which I hope this week to have time to make. Matt summarizes his own criticism of the non-Catholic view of the authority of Scripture, (in the manner he defines it, which is part of the problem,) as “rationally incoherent at a basic level,” which leaves little room for argument either. ;-) But then I feel the same about his position. However, somewhere I think we can step beyond perpetual check, or zugswang. :-)
Although I am familiar with Evangelical Protestant doctrine regarding the Bible, I had not ever heard the teaching that the Bible is eternally existant and is the mirror image of Christ, the Logos, prior to reading Mr. Coleman’s post of April 7, 2004 08:45 PM, in which he quotes a website’s description of Wyclif’s teachings on the Bible. Here is the link for the website: http://www.bopsecrets.org/rexroth/communalism2.htm
To my knowledge Evangelical Protestant doctrine holds that the Bible is God’s inerrent, inspired Word; that (with the exception of direct utterances of the Almighty recorded in the Bible) God Word comes to us through men whom God prompted and guided; and that, while the authors of the books of the Old and New Testamets wrote with their own style and ,when writing history, relied upon human sources for infomation, namely, writen records, eyewitness accounts, and the author’s ownn first-hand knowledge, God spoke through them when they wrote Scripture and protected them from error, both doctrinal and historical. As II Timothy 3:16-17 says, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”
“In addition, Shi’itism (Shiitism? Shiaism?) teaches that the line of Imans decending from Mohommad were inerant in their actions and teachings.”
No doubt this is the origin of the Roman Catholic doctrine of papal infallibility. :-) After all, it is well known that the Roman church crossed paths with Islam in various conflicts, and thus had many leaders who were quite familiar with Islam.
Now, all we have to do is find a quote in which some Roman Catholic leader, in the midst of a controversy over some heresy, makes the off-hand remark that “It is well known that the Mahometans do not suffer from these heresies and divisions, because their Imams are considered inerrant in their teachings”, and that will seal the case. :-)
Mr. LeFevre writes:
“My assertion on the use of that term comes from my own reading of the Koran, …”
I commend Mr. LeFevre on his fortitude. I’ve never been able to sit with the Koran itself for more than ten minutes at a time. A truly rambling, incoherent, self-involved text if ever there was one, even if punctuated by occasional moments of sanity.
I don’t put myself forward as an Islam expert, but my knowledge of Islam extends beyond a smattering. I’ve read all or pieces of six or seven historical books on it, from various perspectives, that you can get on Amazon; and a number of things that require a trip to the right library to acquire. I haven’t done much work on the case that Islam practices a form of sola scriptura that predates Protestantism, in part because it seems so obvious to me. The more interesting question is on the historical-doctrinal connection from Islam to Wycliffe to Luther. If my hypothesis is correct, then the historical progression goes something like this:
* Mohammed copied the Catholic celebration of the Eucharist, but substituted a Real Presence of Allah during recitation of the Koran for the Catholic Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. The Real Presence in the Eucharist is the absolute highest expression of Catholic Christianity; the Scriptures are just texts - important texts, inerrant texts, but not an actual manifestation of God Himself. Mohammed was the first to introduce a _text_ as an actual, immanent manifestation of the voice of God.
* Wycliffe swipes this (text = the actual manifestation of God on earth) equation from the Moors, perhaps actually believes it, but in any case uses it for political ends. Every objective history of Wycliffe emphasizes that he was as much a politician as a theologian.
* Hus and then Luther tone down the actual-presence-of-God-in-the-text stuff a bit, but retain the notion of an actual finite text as the actual Word of God on earth and therefore as supreme ruler over all of temporal life, against which everything is judged. They probably believe it (unlike Wycliffe Hus was burned at the stake over it); and Luther’s affinity for Moslems is probably a result of his own close theological-philosophical proximity to Islam. At the very least when he wrote the Preface I wuote above he considered them kindred spirits is some respects.
Whether there is any support for this beyond Luther’s clearly stated belief that Islamic religious practice was better than Christian religious practice, and the occasional Google mention that Wycliffe’s Bible theology was just like Islam’s, remains to be shown.
Note thought that the actual content of the Koran is almost entirely irrelevant to whether this is or is not true. The question is whether there was an “Aha! _This_ is how we ought to be treating our Christian sacred scriptures!” that provided the ideological spark for the Protestant Revolt.
“Matt summarizes his own criticism of the non-Catholic view of the authority of Scripture, (in the manner he defines it, which is part of the problem,) as “rationally incoherent at a basic level,” which leaves little room for argument either.”
Ah, but my quibble was not about whether or not there was room for argument. My quibble was with the notion that the discussion of the phrase “people of the book” relegates me to the ranks of those who lack even a smattering of knowledge on the subject. I do think that, as a matter of objective fact, sola scriptura is rationally incoherent. But I don’t think that that fact is necessarily obvious to anyone with more than a smattering of knowledge on the subject. Indeed it is not Catholic doctrine that _sola scriptura_ is rationally incoherent; just that it is wrong. As far as I know I am among a rather small number who understand exactly why sola scriptura is not so much factually wrong as rationally incoherent; a number that may not include even the Pope. :-)
Mr. Coleman wrote:
“Now, all we have to do is find a quote in which some Roman Catholic leader, in the midst of a controversy over some heresy, makes the off-hand remark that “It is well known that the Mahometans do not suffer from these heresies and divisions, because their Imams are considered inerrant in their teachings”, and that will seal the case.”
I have the sense that Mr. Coleman doesn’t think that there is such a thing as an intellectual history that can be understood.
If Luther’s preface praising Islam and his stated reasons for translating the book were offhand then _The Path to National Suicide_ is an offhand remark of Mr. Auster’s.
Matt said, “I’ve never been able to sit with the Koran itself for more than ten minutes at a time. A truly rambling, incoherent, self-involved text if ever there was one, even if punctuated by occasional moments of sanity.”
This judgement of the Koran reminds me of Endward Gibbon’s evaluation of the same book.
“In the spirit of enthusiasm or vanity, the prophet rests the truth of his mission on the merit of his book; audaciously challenges both men and angels to imitate the beauties of a single page; and presumes to assert that God alone could dictate this incomparable performance. This argument is most powerfully addressed to a devout Arabian, whose mind is attuned to faith and rapture; whose ear is delighted by the music of sounds; and whose ignorance is incapable of comparing the productions of human genius. The harmony and copiousness of style will not reach, in a version, the European infidel: he will peruse with impatience the endless incoherent rhapsody of fable, and precept, and declamation, which seldom excites a sentiment or an idea, which sometimes crawls in the dust, and is sometimes lost in the clouds. The divine attributes exalt the fancy of the Arabian missionary; but his loftiest strains must yield to the sublime simplicity of the book of Job, composed in a remote age, in the same country, and in the same language. If the composition of the Koran exceed the faculties of a man to what superior intelligence should we ascribe the Iliad of Homer, or the Philippics of Demosthenes?”
It is possible that reading te Koran produces insanity. Literary critique and the verdict of history concerning the behavior of Moslems reinforce one another here.
To overcome insomnia, however, I recommend the Book of Mormon.
Matt gave me more credit than I deserved on reading the Koran. I certainly haven’t read it all the way through, and have never found a more eminently unreadable work. I’ll not add to Matt’s adjectives.
I had previously read the passages specifically dealing with Jews and Christians, who are referred to as the “people of the book.” Admittedly I read only on that topic and may not have seen other occassions where the term was used, though it seems doubtful.
The Koran itself seems very clear about who the term denotes, as in the examples:
“Say: “O People of the Book! come to common terms as between us and you: That we worship none but God; that we associate no partners with Him; that we erect not, from among ourselves, lords and patrons other than God.”“
“Fight those who believe not in Allah nor the Last Day, nor hold that forbidden which hath been forbidden by Allah and His Messenger, nor acknowledge the religion of Truth, (even if they are) of the People of the Book, until they pay the Jizya with willing submission, and feel themselves subdued,” (9:29)
“Do not take the People of The Book for friends”
The term is clearly referring to an ‘other.’
I had further thought that the Koran verses were actually transmitted orally until long after Mohammed’s death before being written, in which case there would be no other book to refer to therein. Thus if Mohammedans indeed use the term to refer also to themselves, which I had never heard asserted before Matt’s comment, then they are using it in a manner not consistent with the Koranic usage, which would seem incompatible with their ‘sola Koran’ approach as Matt has expounded it.
Mr. LeFevre writes:
“…then they are using it in a manner not consistent with the Koranic usage, which would seem incompatible with their ‘sola Koran’ approach as Matt has expounded it.”
The problem here though is that Mr. LeFevre has presumed coherence of thought and consistency of practice. I have found that the world of human beings becomes far more comprehensible with a tiny dose of phenomenalism: assume that people _want to believe_ that their thinking is coherent and their practice consistent, rather than that their thinking is _actually in fact_ coherent and their practice is _actually in fact_ consistent. If I had a nickle for every time the statement “you cannot really believe X” was objectively true, yet I myself still really genuinely thought I believed X consistently, I would have Bill Gates polishing my boots and Paris Hilton waxing my car. That’s just me, and I’m not all that old.
I’ll have to dig up the “people of the book” reference. For all I know it was Karen Armstrong grinding her liberal axe, rather than a historical truth. But I’ll observe again that this is a very minor point in the overall discussion.
On whether Islam adheres to a doctrine of _sola koran_ there is plenty of material out there, including from the Koran itself. Unlike in the case of the Bible the Koran itself expressly asserts that it is the complete, fully detailed rule of faith leaving nothing essential out:
“Shall I seek other than GOD as a source of law, when He has revealed to you this book FULLY DETAILED? Those who received the scripture recognize that it has been revealed from your Lord, truthfully. You shall not harbor any doubt. The word of your Lord is COMPLETE, in truth and justice. Nothing shall abrogate His words. He is the Hearer, the Omniscient.” [6:114-115]
“The day will come when we will raise from every community a witness from among them, and bring you as the witness of these people. We have revealed to you this book to provide EXPLANATIONS FOR EVERYTHING, and guidance, and mercy and good news for the submitters.” 16:89
”..We did not leave anything out of this book..” 6:38
“In their history, there is a lesson for those who possess intelligence. This is not fabricated Hadith; this (Quran) confirms all previous scriptures, provides the DETAILS of EVERYTHING, and is a beacon and mercy for those who BELIEVE.” 12:111
“This Quran could not possibly be authored by other than GOD. It confirms all previous messages, and provides a FULLY DETAILED scripture. It is infallible, for it comes from the Lord of the universe.” [10:37]
“This is the straight path to your Lord. We have DETAILED the revelations for people who TAKE HEED.” 6:126
“We have given them a scripture that is FULLY DETAILED, with knowledge, guidance, and mercy for the people who believe.” 7:52
The Moslem claim to completeness of revelation in a text does, as a matter of historical fact, pre-date Protestantism by many centuries.
Oh, and on Mr. LeFevre’s other point, here is a representative example of what Moslems believe about the origin of the written Koran (and the important thing for our purposes, again, is acual Moslem belief, not the historical facticity or internal consistency of actual Moslem belief).
What is stated on that page is similar to what virtually any devout Moslem will tell you if you ask.
“The Moslem claim to completeness of revelation in a text does, as a matter of historical fact, pre-date Protestantism by many centuries.”
The Jewish approach to the interpretation of the Old Testament scriptures is very similar to the Roman Catholic approach. The various Jewish commentaries and midrash on the scriptures were considered essential to understanding the scriptures as part of a religious community, rather than in an individualistic way, even though the commentaries were not claimed to be inerrant or inspired.
What was the early Christian perspective? There seems to have been quite a variety of hermeneutical approaches across early Christendom. Much of their commentary was on the Old Testament. They seemed to make little or no use of Jewish commentary, even when dealing with non-messianic passages. Did any of the apostolic fathers ever state that one must not read and interpret for oneself? Was there a magisterium to decide such matters? It seems to me that there was great diversity of interpretation, and even quite a bit of heresy as a result — exactly the kinds of criticism leveled at Protestantism in recent centuries because of “private interpretation” of scripture. It was claimed that the scriptures could furnish a man unto every good work (2 Timothy 3:16-17), but I find no qualification that it must be interpreted for me by someone in authority.
As a matter of history, it seems that the various controversies and heresies led to greater and greater centralization of authority in response, along with creeds and councils, until most of the churches had collected together into eastern and western churches with centralized authority as a result. Were the apostles remiss in not establishing a magisterium to settle all matters of interpretation before they left this earth? Why permit all this diversity and heresy and allow the church to evolve over centuries to deal with it, if it is the will of God to have a central authority governing the community of faith?
Matt wrote: “Mr. LeFevre has presumed coherence of thought and consistency of practice.”
Heh, where Mohammedanism is concerned I have presumed no such thing. I made a straightforward statement based on my own view of consistency, which is still allowed. ;-) Mohammedanism has the same ‘flexibility’ as any other system of error. We’ve discussed before the flacid nature of their concept of ‘truth.’
Basically, whatever appears to vindicate Mohammedanism at a given moment is ipso facto ‘truth.’ (I refer Matt to my comment on February 19, 2004 03:10 PM to which Mr. Richardson made another good example — http://www.amnation.com/vfr/archives/002213.html)
I have seen this same tendency in a number of religions, such as Scientology, and also in Christian demoninations as well. I had intended to made a similar observation concerning Roman Catholicism later in the week, but one thing at a time. Matt’s challenge to the authority of Scripture is the first thing to be addressed, and there’s alot here to digest, (and ‘translate.’) ;-)
Matt is correct that the terminology question is small by itself. The context in which it was made, as part of Matt’s larger assertion, is the real issue.
Mr. Coleman asks:
“Did any of the apostolic fathers ever state that one must not read and interpret for oneself?”
The Catholic Church does not teach that one must not read and interpret for oneself, so I would be surprised if the apostles and church fathers did. The Catholic Church does teach that personal interpretations are not the supreme rule of faith and can be in error though.
But the question of whether or not Moslems invented sola scriptura isn’t about the authority to interpret, or at least not directly. It is about whether a specific text is deemed to contain a complete, comprehensive and entire account of revelation (irrespective of who interprets it and under what hermeneutic, presumably). If it contains the complete body of the truth of revelation then nothing else from outside it is a necessary truth of revelation. All necessary truths of revelation are in the text; there exist no necessary truths of revelation that are not in the text. That is sola scriptura.
Discussion of sola scriptura is a two-stage process. The first stage is to determine whether it makes any sense to say that a text contains the completeness of revelation in itself. Only if it does not make any sense to say that - that is, once we have determined that sola scriptura does not make any sense - do we move on to determining where the rest of revelation resides, if it does not reside in its completeness in the text.
Mr. LeFevre wrote:
“Matt’s challenge to the authority of Scripture …”
I make no such challenge, and if what I say is taken as such it is because either I haven’t said it correctly or what I have said has not been interpreted correctly.
I do not challenge the authority of Scripture; Not at all, and not in the slightest. What I deny is the _completeness_ of Scripture, and indeed of any text whatsoever.
Matt wrote: “I make no such challenge …”
And yet, his positions taken to their necessary conclusions, that is exactly what he is doing. Matt’s comment of 2:15 PM was very helpful in framing the parameters of disagreement. Now, I’ll sign off until I can make a complete response in a few days. (The hardest part not being the writing of it, but keeping it short enough so Mr. Auster doesn’t show me the door.) ;-)
To Matt: I have written a not very brief summary of my own position on the Scriptures. In order to avoid breaking the hard disk, I am posting it elsewhere with a link.
On the question of Martin Luther’s quote, it’s a secondary concern for me. I have no need to defend Luther. He was a very flawed man, used by God to restore at least one important truth to the mainstream — that “the just shall live by faith” — but he is not someone that I would hold up otherwise. His rejection of the book of James is probably the most eggregious example of his errors.
I think that the quote you offered on his views of Mohammedanism speaks to something very superficial, but I wouldn’t defend it — particulary where he invokes the Lord. In fact, I would no sooner defend this than you would defend your leader kissing the Koran or praying in a mosque. But where you might dispute the significance of the one, I dispute the significance of the other.
Our real point of contention is on the place of the Scriptures themselves, on how they are to be received and regarded.
I am no Bible scholar, and I’m hardly fit to argue the case I make. My statement lacks ‘polish’ to put it mildly, but it may at least serve to clarify the point in dispute. So, for what it’s worth, here it is:
If I may jump in on this debate …
Mr. LeFevre’s essay is clear, passionate, sagacious: perhaps the best short statement I have seen of the Protestant position.
Now I am a Protestant myself; but I have long been assailed by doubts about what is the True Faith. This, to the amateur psychologists out there, will not come as a surprise considering that while my mother is Presbyterian, my father is Roman Catholic. So I am, as it were, not only divided by conviction, but by genetics.
Mr. LeFevre has not dealt with some problematic passages of Scripture, for example 2 Thessalonians 2:15, wherein Paul writes, “Therefore, brethren, stand fast, and hold the traditions which ye have been taught, whether by word, or our epistle,” which would seem to suggest some authority outside of Scripture. But more broadly I would say that the logic of the Roman Catholic position is no more or less dubious than the logic of the Protestant position.
In short, while Protestants (and Catholics) maintain that fallible human writers, when writing the words of Scripture, were protected from error by the Holy Spirit, Catholics add to this that the Holy Spirit continues to protect from error the Church in her doctrinal teaching capacity.* It is very difficult to adjudicate between these claims, it my experience.
Thus I confess that I have not yet settled in my position on this tremendous question, but I thank Mr. LeFevre for putting forth so cogent a defense of one side of it.
Your turn, Matt.
* If I am mistaken (a not unlikely possibility) please correct me.
I certainly appreciate Mr. LeFevre’s efforts. He has, however, ascribed a great deal to me that I have not said (though no doubt some Catholics somewhere have said it). My (latest) point about _sola scriptura_ in this particular thread is not a defense of Roman Catholicism, nor even of Eastern Orthodoxy. That would most certainly exceed the scope available here, and indeed maybe even the focused topic at hand exceeds that scope. (It is true that my quite specific conculsion - that _sola scriptura_ is fundamentally irrational, and that therefore nobody really believes it - is compatible with both Eastern Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism, and is doubtless incompatible with other faiths). I have not in this thread demonstrated - nay even begun to demonstrate - the truth of Roman Catholicism, nor would I attempt to do so. What I have asserted is the far more specific point that _sola scriptura_ (whether Muslim or Protestant) is irrational and therefore survives as a belief only by making unprincipled exceptions to itself.
Mr. LeFevre gets to the meat of this particular issue thusly:
“Matt says the Scriptures can’t be enough. But the limitation he has placed is really upon God — that God is unable to produce a written revelation that would be sufficient to the needs of a given age.”
Not at all. It is simply the case that God has created writing in such a way that it contains no meaning in and of itself. Writing is an instrument that can structure and convey meaning; but that meaning itself arises elsewhere. The everyday commonsense question is “whose interpretation is right?” Another rather simple demonstration would be if I had written this post in Swahili. If I had, chances are most readers would have to go acquire a great deal of meaning and understanding from outside of the text itself - including accepting an outside authority on the proper meaning and sense of Swahili words, an interpretive hermeneutic, etc. - in order to extract any meaning from it.
For me to say “God has made things a certain way” is not to place an artificial limit on God. It is simply to say that Creation is not what some people think it is, irrespective of the fact that God _could have_ made things differently than He did make them. God has made the nature of the written word such that adopting _sola scriptura_ on one end of history inevitably results in postmodern relativism - the death of meaning - on the other. This is one of those truths of nature which Mr. LeFevre acknowledges in his essay as necessary in addition to Scripture.
Asserting that something is true is not the same thing as saying that God could not in principle have made things different than they are. If it were then we could never make any truth-claims at all.
Protestants like my friend Mr. LeFevre do not really believe that the text is sufficient in itself, as Mr. LeFevre’s own essay makes clear:
“Absent from any such consideration is the role of the Holy Spirit, which Matt never mentions. Without His involvement between the words He inspired and the individual to whom they are given, I concede that Matt’s statements would be logical.”
In the end, the Protestant view is not that the Protestant’s knowledge of the true meaning of revelation comes from Scripture-qua-Scripture, from Scripture alone. The Protestant’s claim is to a gnostic direct connection to Truth guaranteed by the Holy Spirit - indeed, the Protestant _demands_ that God mediate the truth in this particular way, rather than trusting God to reveal it how He sees fit. And indeed I do not (nor does the Catholic Church - “private revelation” would be the topic to look up) deny the in principle possibility of such a direct personal revelation. I simply point out the bare fact that a direct gnostic connection to truth - not just a false claim of one, but an actual one in truth - is not the same as deriving sufficient truth from a text alone.
So nobody, including my friend Mr. LeFevre, really believes in “the Bible alone”.
As to the next step after that realization, it is probably not just a trivial hop and a skip to the other side of the Tiber. But in the end, we have to trust God and be obedient. And we have to do it on His terms, not our own.
“In the end, the Protestant view is not that the Protestant’s knowledge of the true meaning of revelation comes from Scripture-qua-Scripture, from Scripture alone. The Protestant’s claim is to a gnostic direct connection to Truth guaranteed by the Holy Spirit -“
Notice here too the precise parallel to the Koran and its treatment by Moslems not as a text that conveys meaning in the way that other texts convey meaning, but as the literal presence of God speaking directly to the individual Moslem. This is originally a Moslem idea, not a Christian one. The only early-Christian mirror of this sort of sacramental Real Presence is the Eucharist, which is far more than merely the recitation of a text.
Much of Mr. LeFevre’s essay - and it has tremendous merit in this respect - deals with establishing the _value_ of Scripture, or even the _necessity_ of Scripture. But it is not the _value_ or _necessity_ of Scripture that is in dispute. What is in dispute is the rationality of _sola scriptura_ : of the putative _completeness_ of Scripture in and of itself: of Scripture’s putative ability as a text to establish all necessary doctrinal truth without depending upon anything outside of itself.
If I had time — perhaps in mid-May I will — I would be happy to lay out a biblical hermeneutic that is neither the Protestant sola scriptura nor the Roman Catholic one. At this point, I will just provoke everyone into thinking about the following question: In reacting to the Roman Catholic abuses of authority, did the Protestant Reformers assume incorrectly that sola scriptura was the only other approach to scripture, and that adopting that hermeneutic was therefore essential to reformation?
My own view is that Wycliffe adopted the Moslem approach because it was politically expedient. Wycliffe’s big issue was not theological; it was Rome’s political influence, property ownership, etc. Sola scriptura provided a way for Wycliffe to claim that Rome’s political influence was illegitimate; that the Monarch was completely independent of the Pope (in much the same way that John Kennedy and John Kerry falsely claim a complete independence of their political activities from their supposed Catholicism, as if one’s fundamental view of the universe and morality could be kept out of one’s politics).
Whether there was a theologically legitimate reform - a reform that did not resort to a Moslem theology for its legitimacy - that could have occurred is a very interesting question. I’ll look forward to Mr. Coleman’s comments when and if he gets a chance to post them.
But the reform which actually did occur was theologically and intellectually incoherent. The adoption of sola scriptura has led quite directly to Wittgenstein and the death of meaning in postmodern relativism; and to a political circumstance in which the U.S. Supreme Court plays the role of temporal Holy Spirit, breathing meaning into the U.S. Constitution.
This very interesting discussion could benefit even more from Howard Sutherland’s participation. I haven’t seen him around here lately—anyone know where he is? I found his posts addictive.
I thank Paul for his compliment. I have been silent lately (perhaps my Lenten complement to Mr. Auster’s abstinence from posting was an abstinence from commenting, and trying to pay more attention to my day job), but I have been reading. Completely new to me until I read this thread was the idea of a link between Moslem theology and Protestants’ embrace of sola scriptura.
Matt, Mr. Coleman and others have studied this subject far more than I, but I agree that sola scriptura gave budding Protestants a convenient way to discredit the Catholic Church in laymen’s eyes. The causes of the split were many, and more temporal than spiritual. Hilaire Belloc’s broad-brush treatment of it in The Crisis of Civilisation is a good brief statement of the situation that led to the Reformation. From as robustly Catholic a writer as Belloc, it is a fairly neutral view of the abuses of institutions in the late medieval Church (sales of indulgences and other things) that contributed to the “explosion” of the Reformation.
I also agree that sola scriptura has helped contribute to the relativism that is suppressing authoritative interpretation of anything. We haven’t reached the end of that road, but with our willingness to accept such travesties as homosexual “marriage,” it can’t be far off. We’ll never know if there could have been French and Bolshevik Revolutions (or an American one…) without the precedent of the Reformation, but one can wonder.
Matt’s description of the U.S. Supreme Court as a self-appointed “temporal Holy Spirit, breathing meaning into the U.S. Constitution” is deadly accurate, and well-put to boot.
Back to Italy, where this thread started almost two years ago: I wouldn’t be sure that the Bologna Duomo frescoes that so incensed local (?) Moslems are safe. Now that the European Union is proposing a blanket law against racism and xenophobia, it may soon be a crime in Italy and in every other country subject to Brussels to question the benefits of the Moslem invasion, much less attempt to control or reverse it. Cardinal Biffi’s common-sense comments about immigration might land him in a cell in the not-very-distant future. For Italian readers, here is an excellent piece about what Islamisation portends: http://www.italianiliberi.it/Edito04/dhimmi.htm. The writer makes the point that the conquest of Constantinople has not satisfied the Moslems; that the goal of capturing Rome remains:
“In December 2002, in response to a question [sheikh Yussef Kardawi] quoted a verset. “The Prophet was asked: ‘Which will be the first city to be conquered, Constantinople or Romiyya?’ The reply: ‘The city of Hirqil (Constantinople) will be the first… the other city will remain and we hope and believe that it will be conquered…’ This means that we will return to Europe as conquerors after being expelled twice, once from the south in Andalusia and the second time from the east…” But Kardawi immediately added that, this time, the reconquest would not be with the sword, but with prayers and ideology.”
Our Moslem antagonists have longer memories and a more acute sense of history than we. Is today’s post-Christian West armed to repel such a threat? Iraq is a sideshow. The real action is in Europe - and America. HRS
Strange - I would say that the Supreme Court plays the role of the Catholic Church.
Also, I find it interesting that Catholics think of Protestantism as being Muslim-like, because a lot of Protestants see the Catholic Church as being Muslim-like because of its greater emphasis on works.
“a lot of Protestants see the Catholic Church as being Muslim-like because of its greater emphasis on works.”
Not to mention, of course, that Islam, like the Roman Church, constructs a sort of shadow government and shadow social structure within the nation state, the most notable being the similarity b/w Catholic schools and Muslim schools. Of course, both religions seek a supranational loyalty on the part of their adherents that undermines the nation.
Mr. Jose wrote:
“I would say that the Supreme Court plays the role of the Catholic Church.”
I thought someone might say that!
Authority always has a threefold structure: men, tradition, and explicit (textual) law. The _sola scriptura_ approach denies that this is the case and claims to rule based on the textual law alone. That claim is false: as demonstrated above, nobody _really_ believes in sola scriptura. So the difference between a sola scriptura regime and a non sola scriptura regime is not that one involves rule by men and the other avoids rule by men. It is that the _sola scriptura_ regime -denies- that it is engaging in rule-by-men when in fact it is engaging in rule-by-men. The difference between one sort of regime and the other isn’t a matter of how authority is distributed in fact; it is that the _sola scriptura_ regime *claims* that it does not involve rule by men or rule by tradition, but solely rule by textual law.
That is precisely how the Supreme Court operates. It maintains the fiction that it is simply interpreting the text in the new context of today, when in fact it is involved in the same sort of authority structure - law AND men AND tradition - that it claims to have escaped.
It is also how Islam operates. There is no parallel to apostolic succession in Islam (well, there was for a few years until the original Ali was murdered, but I think we can safely discount 3 years out of 1500). An Imam sets himself up in much the same way a Protestant pastor sets himself up.
Sola scriptura claims that authority can be derived from a text alone. Nature and nature’s God beg to differ.
Paul C. wrote:
“Of course, both religions seek a supranational loyalty on the part of their adherents that undermines the nation.”
Any religion at all requires this sort of loyalty though: one’s loyalty to God - and indeed to what is true - must always transcend one’s loyalty to family, nation, etc. A religion is by definition a set of beliefs about what is fundamentally true, about what transcends all other things. That doesn’t mean that it devalues those other things; indeed I would argue that it is -necessary- in order for those other things to have value at all.
“Any religion at all requires this sort of loyalty though: one’s loyalty to God …”
A loyalty to God, but not a loyalty to popes, cardinals, imams, and ayatollahs.
If God is a God Who Reveals, though, then loyalty to God is loyalty to His revelation. And if gnosticism and _sola scriptura_ are false then His revelation comes to us necessarily through a combination of men, text, and tradition.
Loyalty to God, if it has any this-worldly consequences at all, will necessarily entail supranational this-worldly loyalties. The alternative is the Third Reich.
If we are talking about Thomas Jefferson’s god, well, that is a different story entirely.
Nationalism is a good; a necessary good worth fighting for, and one that it is very fashionable to disparage and undermine at present. But it is not the ultimate good.
In reply to Matt’s post of 4:17 PM yesterday, is it accurate to say that sola scriptura denies all authority of men and places all authority in the text? Or is this Matt’s caricature (or misunderstanding) of sola scriptura?
After all, the text itself establishes the position of elder/bishop/overseer/pastor (synonymous terms in the New Testament, abused badly by most Protestant, Catholic, and Orthodox churches today). These men are to exercise authority over the teaching function of the church, and the rest of us are to be obedient to them.
So, a straightforward reading of the text leads to establishment of offices of authority at the congregational level. The controversy arises at the establishment of authority above the congregational level that extends beyond the lifetimes of the apostles.
It strikes me as more than a little ironic to take “the Bible alone” to mean “the Bible not actually alone, but taken together with these particular clerics and traditions and subject to their interpretation”. The irony is there irrespective of the particular clerics and traditions in question.
I think “sola scriptura” is one of those squirrelly terms that, since it doesn’t actually mean anything rational in itself, gets construed or asserted to mean whatever the person making the assertion happens to want it to mean. Its utility to those who assert it resides solely in the illusion that it provides a basis from which to reject some authority that they wish to reject.
That does not, of course, mean that there is objectively no basis from which to reject the authority in question. It just means that as soon as “sola scriptura” has been invoked as the basis from which to reject an authority the discussion has departed the realm of the objective and rational.