(Maike Hickson, Life Site News – June 8th, 2020) Bishop Athanasius Schneider has once more raised his voice concerning the controversial February 4, 2019 Abu Dhabi Statement on Human Fraternity where Pope Francis and a Grand Imam jointly declared, among other problematic statements, that God wills a “diversity” of religions.
Bishop Schneider’s intervention (read full text below) comes after Cardinal Gerhard Müller wrote an extensive interpretation and explanation of that document. While Cardinal Müller presents an “interpretative key” with the help of which one might be able to read this document in a less controversial manner, Bishop Schneider points out those aspects of the document which are not in accordance with Catholic Tradition and thus need to be criticized.
Writing for the Catholic journal Communio (3/2020), Cardinal Müller stated that it is “sensational” that, “for the first time in the eventful and conflict-ridden history of the two largest faith communities of the world – comprising together of 3 billion people – the highest authority of the Catholic Church and a high-ranking religious and academic authority of the Islamic world present a common text” which expects from their faithful “a consent which binds them in their consciences.”
The German prelate explained that he wishes to present a “reading aid” for this document, which he assesses as being “not an act of the Magisterium” with regard to the revealed faith and morals, but still a document by the highest authority in the Church interpreting the natural moral law.
For the German prelate, this document “corresponds in its intention with the General Declaration of Human Rights by the United Nations (1948),” beside its dealing with faith in God and His Grace. He continued to explain that both in the Christian and in the Islamic tradition, the “faith in God” calls for “fraternity as a vocation and a demand upon man in his conscience.”
Modern ideologies which aim at destruction and which have a sort of social-Darwinist world view, Cardinal Müller wrote, have to be opposed by “those who believe in God the almighty and benevolent Creator,” and this with the help of “the principle of the universal brotherhood.” While insisting upon the importance and essential element of the Incarnation of Jesus Christ and of the Holy Trinity, he thinks still that there can be, on the natural level and by virtue of our creation, a “natural brotherhood of all people.” Cardinal Müller, later on, added that “any violence and any force” with regard to matters of faith is unacceptable. Here, he stressed the important duty of “any religious or civil authority” of accepting “the fundamental, supranational human right to religious freedom,” while at the same time insisting that this does not mean a relativism with regard to the revealed truth.
Cardinal Müller, who endorsed the Abu Dhabi document in its essential claims while at the same time providing some fundamental Catholic principles involved, added that neither Pope Francis nor the Grand Imam “abandoned their individual confessions of faith which stand, in important matters, in contradiction to one another by virtue of their content.” This document, he continued, “is not rooted in a relativism concerning God’s claim to truth, nor does it go into the direction of a unified religion as it is being favored by progressive and socialist elites.”
Touching upon the criticism of the Abu Dhabi statement as it has been expressed by bishops and theologians, the German prelate stated that one “can” interpret the one sentence of the document regarding the “diversity of religions” as “willed by God” in a relativistic manner, but that it “must” not necessarily be done. Here, he insisted that one has rather to “interpret” the text and its hermeneutic and terminology (which had passed in the process through numerous hands) “with a view on the good intention of their authors rather than with a view on the academic precision in its expressions.”
“It seems obvious,” Müller continued, “that one wanted to formulate in a positive manner and in view of the authority of God the Creator that which otherwise would have been formulated in a negative manner, namely, that no one may be discriminated because of his religion, skin color and so on.”
Further commenting on the Abu Dhabi statement, Cardinal Müller goes on to say that “the irritation about the above-mentioned sentence” could have been “avoided if one not simply had talked of the (absolute) will of God, as it is part of His Being with His Eternal Wisdom and Reason,” but, rather, in light of “His universal salvific will as it unfolds itself throughout history” which aims at leading all “pagans to the obedience of the Faith.” (Rom. 16,25ff) Here, Müller speaks of the “permissive will of God,” which stands in relation to the “evil as a defect of nature or evil as contradiction to the intended good.”
Important in this context is that the German cardinal questions whether a Pope can at all sign a document with a Muslim “in the name of God,” as the Abu Dhabi statement does, since Muslim monotheism is opposed to the Catholic belief in the Holy Trinity and the Incarnation. Catholics cannot speak about the Father without His Son. However, according to the German prelate, in spite of these differences, “the dignity of man and the human rights can be founded in the transcendence and majesty of God.” While we cannot “pray together to God in prayer, since a Christian can only speak to the Father through Christ in the Holy Ghost,” Müller wrote, we still can “begin the dialogue and the collaboration and assure us of the most fundamental elements that we have in common – that God exists, that He is One (Deum esse unum), that He, in His Benevolence, created the world and that men are, based on their freedom, accountable before Him for their deeds.”
As can be seen in this short summary of the new intervention of Cardinal Müller, he tries to interpret the Abu Dhabi document in a less controversial manner, similar to how he had approached, in 2017, the post-synodal exhortation Amoris Laetitia. At the time, he insisted that this document, which was used by shepherds in various places around the world as a justification to give Holy Communion to “remarried” Catholics currently living in adulterous unions, is not heretical. Or, as a title by the Website Crux put it in 2017: “Müller’s defense of ‘Amoris Laetitia’ reads it in Church tradition.”
However, there are different positions on how to approach some of these controversial documents by Pope Francis. Bishop Athanasius Schneider has chosen to directly confront the errors or ambiguities that are to be found in the Abu Dhabi statement. Only a few days ago, he already made a statement on the Abu Dhabi document opposing the view that God positively wills the diversity of religions. In that statement, Schneider discussed some problems regarding the Second Vatican Council’s teaching on religious freedom which might need a future correction, just as it has been done in the past with other conciliar statements of previous centuries.
In his new statement as sent to LifeSiteNews, the Kazakh bishop of German origin points out that the same above-mentioned sentence – namely, that the diversity of religions is willed by God, just as the diversity of color, sex, and more – is “the most erroneous and dangerous affirmation” of the text. Bishop Schneider also criticizes the document’s formulation about a common faith in God. By quoting Holy Scripture, he insists: “There is only ‘one Lord, one Faith, one Baptism’ (Eph. 4:5), ‘for all men have not faith.’ (2 Thess. 3:2)” In essence, there is only one true Faith, the Catholic Faith, and the other religions are false religions.
Further distinguishing between the Catholic Faith and the Muslim faith – and pointing to the Second Vatican Council’s ambiguous teaching in this specific matter – the German prelate writes: “To state that Muslims adore together with us the one God (‘nobiscum Deum adorant’), as Vatican II Council did in Lumen Gentium n. 16, is theologically a highly ambiguous affirmation. That we Catholics adore with the Muslims the one God is not true. We do not adore with them. In the act of adoration, we always adore the Holy Trinity, we do not simply adore ‘the one God’ but, rather, the Holy Trinity consciously—Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. Islam rejects the Holy Trinity. When the Muslims adore, they do not adore on the supernatural level of faith. Even our act of adoration is radically different.”
Moreover, he adds, we Catholics have a “supernatural faith,” while Muslims might adore God on a natural level; they “can adore God on the level of the natural knowledge of the existence of God. They adore in a natural act of adoration the same God, whom we adore in a supernatural act and with supernatural faith in the Holy Trinity.” “But these are two essentially different acts of adoration, Schneider concludes.
The prelate further explains the many other differences between the Catholic and Muslim understanding of God’s nature, of who Jesus and Mary are (they do not believe Jesus is the Son of God, therefore they cannot adore Him properly).
Bishop Schneider also insists that Muslims have a different conception of mercy than Christians.
“According to Surah 9:29,” he writes “Muslims are to ‘fight those who do not believe in Allah or in the Last Day and who do not consider unlawful what Allah and His Messenger have made unlawful and who do not adopt the religion of truth from those who were given the Scripture—[fight] until they give the tribute [jizyah] willingly while they are humbled.’”
“One cannot agree,” Schneider continues, “with the thesis that says that a proper reading of the Koran is opposed to every form of violence. First, this is not true simply based on a plain reading of the Koran. The later Surahs of the Koran are very violent toward non-Muslims and call for the occupation of non-Muslim countries by violence. Even in our days, this is well understood by many Muslims to be the legitimate method to read the Koran.”
In this sense, the Muslims have a different understanding of fraternity. For us Catholics, the fraternity of Christ is the basis of our own understanding of fraternity.
Says Bishop Schneider: “The only stable universal fraternity is the fraternity in Christ. Only in Jesus Christ and in the Holy Spirit He sent, people can truly be children of God and truly say to God ‘Father’ and consequently be truly brethren: ‘For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. You have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’ The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and, if children, then heirs – heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ’ (Rm. 8:14-17).
Therefore, the author comes to a clear conclusion with regard to the Abu Dhabi document: “From the theological point of view it is, therefore, misleading and confusing that the Roman Pontiff signed a common document with an Islamic religious authority using the terms ‘God’, ‘Faith’, ‘pluralism and diversity of religions’, ‘fraternity,’ though these terms have substantially different meanings in the teachings of the Koran and in the Divine Revelation of Our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Full statement by Bishop Athanasius Schneider:
There is no common faith in God nor common adoration of God shared by Catholics and Muslims
The most erroneous and dangerous affirmation of the Abu Dhabi Document on “Human Fraternity for World Peace and Living Together” (signed by Pope Francis and The Grand Imam of Al-Azhar Ahmad Al-Tayyeb on February 4, 2019) is the following: “The pluralism and the diversity of religions, colour, sex, race and language are willed by God in His wisdom, through which He created human beings. This divine wisdom is the source from which the right to freedom of belief and the freedom to be different derives.” It contradicts Divine Revelation to say that, just as God positively wills the diversity of the male and female sexes and the diversity of nations, so in the same way he also wills the diversity of religions.
The Abu Dhabi Document speaks also about a common faith in God, for instance: “It is a document that invites all persons who have faith in God and faith in human fraternity.” Here the meaning of faith itself is ambiguous and, moreover, the meaning of faith in God is put on the natural level of believing “in human fraternity.” This is theologically wrong and misleading.
The meaning of the term “faith” is given by Jesus Christ Himself, hence by Divine Revelation. There is only “one Lord, one Faith, one Baptism” (Eph. 4:5), “for all men have not faith.” (2 Thess. 3:2) Jesus Christ, the Incarnate Son of God, is the “the author and perfecter of our faith.” (Hebr. 12:2) Whoever does not believe in Jesus Christ the Son of God has no faith and does not please God, as the Lord says: “Whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God” (Jn 3:18) and “Whoever does not believe in the Son, shall not see life; but the wrath of God remains on him.” (Jn 3:36)
The Catechism of the Catholic Church says: “For a Christian, believing in God cannot be separated from believing in the One he sent, his “beloved Son,” in whom the Father is “well pleased”; God tells us to listen to him. (cf. Mk 1:11) The Lord himself said to His disciples: “Believe in God, believe also in me.” (Jn 14:1) (CCC n. 151) “Faith” and “believe” does not mean the knowledge of God by the natural light of the reason, but a supernatural gift of God “aroused and aided by divine grace, receiving faith by hearing, believing to be true what has been divinely revealed and promised.” (Council of Trent, Decree on Justification, sess. 6, chap. 6)
The Church always taught with the First Vatican Council that “the situation of those, who by the heavenly gift of faith have embraced the Catholic truth, is by no means the same as that of those who, led by human opinions, follow a false religion” (Dogmatic Constitution “Dei Filius”, chap. 3)
The same Council teaches: “The perpetual agreement of the Catholic Church has maintained and maintains this too: that there is a twofold order of knowledge, distinct not only as regards its source, but also as regards its object. With regard to the source, we know at the one level by natural reason, at the other level by divine faith. With regard to the object, besides those things to which natural reason can attain, there are proposed for our belief certain mysteries hidden in God which, unless they are divinely revealed, are incapable of being known.” (Dogmatic Constitution “Dei Filius”, chap. 4)
To state that Muslims adore together with us the one God (“nobiscum Deum adorant”), as the II Vatican Council did in Lumen Gentium n. 16, is theologically a highly ambiguous affirmation. That we Catholics adore with the Muslims the one God is not true. We do not adore with them. In the act of adoration, we always adore the Holy Trinity, we do not simply adore “the one God” but, rather, the Holy Trinity consciously—Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. Islam rejects the Holy Trinity. When the Muslims adore, they do not adore on the supernatural level of faith. Even our act of adoration is radically different. It is essentially different. Precisely because we turn to God and adore Him as children who are constituted within the ineffable dignity of divine filial adoption, and we do this with supernatural faith. However, the Muslims do not have supernatural faith. The Muslims have only a natural knowledge of God. The Koran is not the revelation of God, but a kind of anti-revelation of God, because the Koran expressly denies the divine revelation of the Incarnation, of the eternal divinity of the Son of God, of the redemptive sacrifice of Christ on the Cross, and therefore denies the truth of God, the Holy Trinity. Of course, when a person sincerely adores God the Creator—as the majority of simple Muslim people do—they adore God with a natural act of worship, based on the natural knowledge of God, the Creator. Every non-Christian, every non-baptized person, including a Muslim, can adore God on the level of the natural knowledge of the existence of God. They adore in a natural act of adoration the same God, whom we adore in a supernatural act and with supernatural faith in the Holy Trinity. But these are two essentially different acts of adoration: the one is an act of natural knowledge and the other is an act of supernatural faith. The acts of adoration, and the acts of knowing on which they are based, are substantially different, though the object is the same in that it is the same God. Perhaps one could formulate in this way: “Muslims adore God in an act of natural worship, and thus in a way substantially different from what we Catholics do, since we adore God always with supernatural faith.”
The subjective act of adoration of the Muslims is also different because their understanding of God is different from ours. One should bear in mind the fact that Muslims, accepting propositions asserted of God that are not of divine origin, are in danger of offering a false knowledge and a false worship to God even on the natural level.
The Document of Abu Dhabi speaks of “the basis of our common belief in God.” However, those who follow Islam see God as distant, devoid of a personal interrelationship, and this is a very defective idea of God. A considerable portion of Muslims have a distorted and false image of God as One who is unable to communicate personally with us, and whom we cannot truly and personally love as our Father and as our Redeemer.
One must also consider the fact that the Muslim conception of Jesus is a rejection of the Christian idea: for the Koran states that God cannot have a Son, and so they reject the Incarnation even if they accept the Virgin Birth. Therefore, it is inaccurate to equate their veneration of Jesus with our adoration of Him as God Incarnate and the Redeemer of mankind; and their veneration of Mary is not the same as our veneration of her as the Mother of God. Hence, we cannot learn from them how to relate properly to Jesus or Mary. In addition, their understanding that life is “for” God is not the same as ours, for Jesus taught that God is our Father, that we live for Him, in order to increase our love for Him and be happy with Him forever, whereas their conception of living for God is as a slave lives to serve a powerful Master. Finally, the Muslim conception of mercy is different from the Christian conception of mercy, for we are merciful as God the Father was merciful to us, sending His Son to die for us when we were still His enemies, something which the Muslims deny.
According to Surah 9:29, Muslims are to “fight those who do not believe in Allah or in the Last Day and who do not consider unlawful what Allah and His Messenger have made unlawful and who do not adopt the religion of truth from those who were given the Scripture—[fight] until they give the tribute [jizyah] willingly while they are humbled.”
One cannot agree with the thesis that says that a proper reading of the Koran is opposed to every form of violence. First, this is not true simply based on a plain reading of the Koran. The later Surahs of the Koran are very violent toward non-Muslims and call for the occupation of non-Muslim countries by violence. Even in our days this is well understood by many Muslims to be the legitimate method to read the Koran. Further, the majority of Muslims agree that the later (more violent) Surahs have more authority. Usually, Muslims understand the Koran literally as they have no spiritual or allegorical exegesis. Maybe some exceptional persons, some good Islamic scholars will do this, but they do not represent Islam as such. They have no ultimate authority.
From the theological point of view, it is, therefore, misleading and confusing that the Roman Pontiff signed a common document with an Islamic religious authority using the terms “God”, “Faith”, “pluralism and diversity of religions”, “fraternity,” though these terms have substantially different meanings in the teachings of the Koran and in the Divine Revelation of Our Lord Jesus Christ. Furthermore, one has also to keep in mind the fact, that the Muslims have no authority to settle disputes with a universal authority, since they have no magisterium, and that there is no authority to represent Islam as such, and that there is no central authority in Islam to decide doctrinal questions for all Muslims.
The only stable universal fraternity is the fraternity in Christ. Only in Jesus Christ and in the Holy Spirit He sent, people can truly be children of God and truly say to God “Father” and consequently be truly brethren: “For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. You have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’ The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and, if children, then heirs – heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ” (Rm. 8:14-17).
The only true and stable peace is the peace of Christ. The following teaching of Pope Pius XI from almost a hundred years ago, faithfully transmits what Jesus Christ, Our Divine Teacher and Redeemer, and the constant Magisterium of the Church taught throughout the ages, and which remain the criteria to which the analysis of the Abu Dhabi Document has be submitted:
“We do not need a peace that will consist merely in acts of external or formal courtesy, but a peace which will penetrate the souls of men and which will unite, heal, and reopen their hearts to that mutual affection which is born of brotherly love. The peace of Christ is the only peace answering this description: ‘let the peace of Christ rejoice in your hearts.’ (Col. 3:15) Nor is there any other peace possible than that which Christ gave to His disciples (Jn. 14:27) for since He is God, He ‘beholds the heart’ (1 Kings 16:7) and in our hearts His kingdom is set up. Again, Jesus Christ is perfectly justified when He calls this peace of soul His own for He was the first Who said to men, ‘all you are brethren.’ (Matt. 23:8) He gave likewise to us, sealing it with His own life’s blood, the law of brotherly love, of mutual forbearance – ‘This is my commandment, that you love one another, as I have loved you.’ (Jn. 15:12) ‘Bear ye one another’s burdens; and so you shall fulfill the law of Christ.’ (Gal. 6:2)” (Encyclical Ubi arcano Dei Consilio, 33).
“True peace, the peace of Christ, is impossible unless we are willing and ready to accept the fundamental principles of Christianity, unless we are willing to observe the teachings and obey the law of Christ, both in public and private life.” (Encyclical Ubi arcano Dei Consilio, 47)
“The re-establishment of Christ’s kingdom, we will be working most effectively toward a lasting world peace.” (Encyclical Ubi arcano Dei Consilio, 49)
“Only in this Kingdom of Christ can we find that true human equality by which all men are ennobled and made great by the selfsame nobility and greatness, for each is ennobled by the precious blood of Christ.” (Encyclical Ubi arcano Dei Consilio, 58)
June 4, 2020
+ Athanasius Schneider, Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese of Saint Mary in Astana