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SAN DIEGO (ChurchMilitant.com) - A prominent Catholic apologist has sparked an explosive debate after he evaded a charged question asking whether the Catechism was right to affirm that Muslims "together with us [Catholics] adore the one, merciful God."
A questioner asked Tim Staples how the Catholic Catechism's teaching on Catholics and Muslims worshipping the same God squared with Jesus' words "whoever does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent him," from John 5.
In the Sept. 5 video titled, "How Do Muslims Worship the Same God as Christians?" Staples, who is Catholic Answers' Director of Apologetics and Evangelization, quotes Jesus' words: "I am the way, the truth and the life. No man comes to the Father except by me." (John 14:6)
However, the apologist immediately digresses into a discussion on "invincible ignorance," insisting that "to knowingly reject the Son is to reject the Father."
The apologist then links this doctrine to paragraph 841 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church: "The plan of salvation also includes those who acknowledge the Creator, in the first place amongst whom are the Muslims; these profess to hold the faith of Abraham, and together with us they adore the one, merciful God, mankind's judge on the last day."
Staples acknowledges that paragraph 841 is quoting Vatican II's Lumen Gentium 16, but insists that this teaching is "not contradicting Jesus Christ."
"Jesus' Church is simply elucidating what Jesus teaches," Staples stresses, in defense of Vatican II.
But nowhere does Jesus or the Bible or 2,000 years of Sacred Tradition teach that Muslims are included in God's plan of salvation. The theological assessment that "Islam's God is also the same God as worshipped by Catholics," as theologian Gavin D'Costa phrases it, appears for the first time in Vatican II in Nostra Aetate 3 and Lumen Gentium 16.
In comments to Church Militant, historian of Islam Robert Spencer observes how "Tim Staples spends a great deal of time in his answer talking about invincible ignorance, but that actually has nothing to do with the question of whether Muslims and Christians adore the same God, as Vatican II and the Catechism state."
"Catholic apologists such as Tim Staples have to twist themselves into pretzels to make it appear as if Vatican II is correct on this point when there is a superabundance of evidence that it isn't," Spencer remarks.
"The Vatican II statement about Muslims says that they profess the faith of Abraham. It has nothing to do with whether they have heard the gospel or not," he notes.
Spencer, author of 21 books on Islam, explains:
Islam denies the Trinity, the incarnation, and the divinity of Christ (Qur'an 5:116, 19:35), the Crucifixion (Qur'an 4:157) — and hence its redemptive value — and the Resurrection. It denies free will and says that God could have guided some people to the truth but decided arbitrarily to send them to Hell instead (Qur'an 32:13).
"This is part of a larger issue that has bedeviled the Church since the 1960s: What exactly is the authority of Vatican II? Do all its teachings require the assent of mind and will on the part of the believer?" Spencer asks.
In a 2014 article answering the same question, Staples argues that the Council fathers were careful to say Muslims "profess" but not that they "profess" to believe in one God. It says they "profess to hold the faith of Abraham."
According to the Catechism, Israel's "patriarchs, prophets and certain other Old Testament figures" possess the true "faith of Abraham," Staples notes.
"Muslims could hardly be included in this number," he concludes, conceding that Vatican II does declare: "together with us they adore the one, merciful God ... ."
Staples sums up by quoting Pope John Paul II, who "acknowledges the truth that Muslims get it right when they profess faith in one God" but then points out "they have it as wrong as wrong can be when it comes to what God has revealed to us in Scripture about who He is."
Speaking to Church Militant, Catholic academic John Zmirak acknowledges that "the slippery, Islamophilic language that we find in the non-dogmatic (fallible) Vatican II document was apparently put there to assuage the outrage of some Arab Catholic prelates, who resented the Philo-Semitic language found there."
Spencer agrees: "In fact, the false teaching about Christians and Muslims worshipping the same God is one of the foremost arguments for affirming that Vatican II is simply a pastoral council with no dogmatic value."
The debate over Vatican II has raged recently with Bp. Robert Barron going on the offensive against critics of the council.
"Some Catholics in America today are increasingly vocal in their attacks on the Second Vatican Council — an ecumenical council of the Church summoned and presided over by the successor of Peter. How should we understand this disturbing trend?" asks Barron.
However, in his apologetics in defense of Vatican II, Barron never addresses the Islamic elephant in the conciliar chamber.
The secretary for the Unity of Christians said on 18 November 1964 in the Council Hall about Nostra Aetate: "As to the character of the declaration, the secretariat does not want to write a dogmatic declaration on non-Christian religions, but, rather, practical and pastoral norms." Nostra Aetate does not have any dogmatic authority, and thus one cannot demand from anyone to recognize this declaration as being dogmatic.
In 2012, Cdl. Walter Brandmüller, retired president of the Pontifical Committee for Historical Sciences, announced at a press conference that Nostra Aetate and Dignitatis Humanae "do not have a binding doctrinal content, so one can dialogue about them."
On the eve of the 50th anniversary of the opening of Vatican II, Pope Benedict XVI wrote that in Nostra Aetate, a "weakness of this otherwise extraordinary text has gradually emerged: It speaks of religion solely in a positive way, and it disregards the sick and distorted forms of religion."
Spencer told Church Militant how he'd found "numerous Catholic spokesmen who are reluctant in the extreme to proselytize among Muslims, or to criticize Islam's teachings of violence and subjugation, or even to speak out against the Muslim persecution of Christians because Vatican II says that we all worship the same God."
"This teaching has caused an immense amount of confusion within the Church and misled all too many Catholics into thinking that Muslims are some sort of semi-Christian sect, a sect that teaches theological and moral errors which must never be noticed; to do so would be impolite and even un-Christian," Spencer lamented.