Skip to comments.Islam, Protestantism and Divergence from Catholicism
Posted on 02/17/2007 11:55:27 AM PST by Titanites
Protestantism and Islam: Points of Contact
Protestantism may well have begun as a genuine movement of reform. Accepting the teachings of the Church, its adherents wanted to bring the practice of the Church into line with its teachings. This is the object of all Christian movements. However, it very soon developed into something far more radical, jettisoning basic Christian teachings, bringing in doctrines entirely new to Christianity, and having to meld the results into a coherent whole. This involved developing doctrinal and practical solutions to new problems in the field of Christian faith and morals.
Most of Protestant teaching was conventional Christianity, with some being revived from St Augustine and the early fathers. Where there is novelty there is also often a strong similarity with Islamic doctrine. Perhaps there is an interestingly similar dynamic involved in the rejection of traditional Christianity that both these belief systems, to varying extents, share. Whilst the very title of “Protestantism” depicts its genesis as a reactive movement, it is the case that strong protests against the Christian doctrines of the Trinity and the Incarnation form part of the Koran and so of Islamic faith. It is also noteworthy that Luther issued his own translation of the Koran in 1542, along with a confutation of its soteriology—the key point of Islamic and protestant divergence.
Islam was not a distant or peripheral force in the Europe of the 1520s. The Ottoman Empire had taken Constantinople in 1454. Many scholars had fled to the west, especially to Rome, bringing with them first-hand knowledge of Islam and its practices. Some of these may well still have been alive when Luther visited Rome in 1510. A resurgent Ottoman Empire took Belgrade in 1520 and Hungary in 1526, coming to the very heart of Europe.
Protestantism was a move closer to the Islamic view of Scriptural authority. The traditional Christian view is that Christ founded the Church which wrote the Scriptures, ratified them and gains constant nourishment from them. Their definitive meaning derives from the same Church which produced them. Luther’s view that Scripture is the only guide to faith and practice is similar to the Islamic view of the Koran. As Muslims are gradually discovering, this view is too optimistic: all Bible believing Protestants from Luther to the present-day have required a huge substructure of unacknowledged assumptions and beliefs by which they interpret the Bible, and which don’t come from it.
One of the most popular Islamic criticisms of “Christianity” is to show that the divergence in interpretation of the Bible is far greater than that concerning the Koran. Seeing such divergence as evidence against Christianity is based upon the Protestant-Islamic view of scripture (and in any case the gap is gradually closing). The Koran had described Jews and Christians as ‘people of the book’, which can be misleading. All literate religions have sacred books, but to suggest |24| JANUARY/FEBRUARY 2007 faith that the Scriptures of the Christians and Jews are the key element of these religions is mistaken. The Protestant emphasis did give an added impetus to the wider distribution of the Scriptures in translation. Again, this echoes the Koran, which was written in the language to be understood by the people.
The Reformation was also a move in the direction of Islamic belief on the question of the sacraments, and related ideas about the priesthood. Sacraments, by which grace is given to the people, are a crucial part of Christianity. One of the key sacraments is Holy Orders since only the priest says Mass, hears confessions, confirms, ordains and annoints. Islam has no priesthood, no sacraments, no sacrifice, no temple, and no altar. These things are not unrelated. The priest is one who (in any religion) offers sacrifice and the altar is the place of sacrifice. A religion without sacrifice does not have priests or altars. Luther’s denial that Holy Orders is a sacrament changed the nature of the priesthood.
The priest tended to become a minister or a functionary with duties more akin to a schoolmaster than a sacred person. He no longer wore symbolic vestments, but rather, like everybody else, he wore the uniform of his trade. The vessels (if any) were not sacred and could be handled by anyone. The altar became a table, to be moved as required. The church itself commonly became a meeting place, with no sacred character, and needed no special reverence when not in use for services. The services themselves tended to concentrate on the readings from the Scriptures (in the vernacular) and the sermon became a central part of the service.
Protestantism is then a convergence with the Islamic understanding of ministry and religious services. Luther, and most Protestants, retained two sacraments: Baptism and the Eucharist. Both of these soon lost their sacramental character. When baptism became “believers’ baptism”, the decisive step became faith in Christ (and the Scriptures) and baptism became not an infusion of faith and grace, but only the public acknowledgement of faith. This comes very close to Islamic practice; one becomes a Moslem by acknowledging ones faith in Islam in front of witnesses. This is all a shadow of the Judaeo- Catholic sense of God’s abiding, sanctifying, sacrificial, ritualistic presence amongst his people.
Two other points relating to the priesthood are relevant here. Firstly, the Christian priest is a Pontifex, a bridge, a constant channel of grace between God and man and is often a channel of prayer from man to God. He prays for the dead. None of these occur in Islam, or in Protestantism. Islam in fact explicitly denies that the living can help the dead in any way, as do most branches of Protestantism. Secondly we have issues of priestly celibacy, monasticism and religious vows. Christianity has always admired and looked up to monks and hermits, seeing in them a real attempt to forsake this world for the Kingdom of God. It has always admired and usually demanded celibacy from its priests. The Koran itself praised Christian monks for their charity and benevolence, but there was no place in Islam for monasticism. Celibacy was despised. Protestants deprecated both celibacy and monasticism and both virtually disappeared from Protestant countries. Luther had been a monk and had taken solemn vows, but readily forsook those vows to get married. Generally, Christians take vows very seriously but in Islam they are easily dispensed if they become inconvenient. In the play A Man for All Seasons St Thomas More says that when we take a vow we hold our very selves in our hands. You don’t get this in Islam, or in Luther.
We turn now to the destruction of images. Luther allowed and other reformers encouraged or even enforced a widespread and devastating iconoclasm. The fury of this destruction may be traced to the sacred or sometimes miraculous reputations of some images, or to their association with prayers for the dead, or perhaps to social causes. A similar iconoclasm had occurred in the Byzantine Empire in the eighth century under the influence of Islam. Islam and Protestantism rejected both images, and the intercession of saints often associated with them.
Marriage and the Position of Women Undermined
Turning to morals, it has often been noticed that the ethics of most religious systems are very similar to each other. Those of Islam and Catholicism differ most in the areas of marriage and the position of women and of the relation between religion and state.
A Muslim is expected to marry. But marriage is a contract with the possibility of divorce is built into it, not a lifelong commitment. Polygamy is also allowed. Less well-known is the fact that a man may also, in certain cases, keep concubines. Traditional Christianity forbids these things but the early Protestants allowed all of these arrangements. One of the scandals of the Reformation was the bigamous marriage of Philip of Hesse, conducted by Luther himself. Luther was not keen on it; he suggested concubinage as a compromise.
One of the greatest and most far reaching of the changes in the social life of Europe caused by the Reformation concerned the position of women. Outside |25| faith the domestic circles, the main channel for education and advancement for women was the church. They were educated at convent schools, could rise to become prioresses or abbesses of great houses and were numbered amongst the scholars, Saints, mystics and martyrs of the church. Many achieved fame for their letters or spiritual writings, women like Juliana of Norwich, Catherine of Siena. and Theresa of Avila.
Furthermore, they could find constant visual aids and role models in Our Lady and the female saints depicted in churches and books. All these were swept away in Protestant countries. This doesn’t seem to have been an oversight. Many of the reformers had a deep distrust of women in any positions of power. The domestic position of women could have become grim as well were it not that that the early Protestant experiments in this area were effectively abandoned. Polygamy never caught on. The official recognition of concubinage was short lived, and divorce became very rare to be indulged in only by the rich.
What about the relations between church and state? The Ottoman Sultan claimed to be the successor of Muhammad and the spiritual leader of all the Muslims. He was of course still bound by the Koran and Islamic practices, but there was no conflict between church and state. This appealed to many reformers. It became a model for Protestant states, where generally the prince, rather than a priest, was head of the church, and at the highest level directed its affairs. Finally, Luther believed that reason was so corrupted by sin that it could not be relied upon. The radical transcendence of Allah produces a similar downplaying of the harmony of faith and reason.
I have tried to suggest that many of the major Protestant innovations have a relationship with Islam. Perhaps there are sociological similarities. One might even think that some of the Protestant ‘innovations’ were not really novelties at all. I would certainly not suggest that Protestantism imported every idea from Islam, clearly most of the key Protestant ideas are Christian. Nor do I think that all the innovations came from Islam. Outstanding exceptions are justification by faith alone, and possibly the Protestant distaste shown towards pilgrimages and honouring the saints. There may be something to learn from all this about the way in which pious men rebel against the idea of divine, incarnational authority and activity living on down the centuries in the Church.
Well, there's that islamic sacrament of severing heads that hasn't yet been adopted by protestants.
I'm sure you consider this a serious, informed, well-researched comparison of Protestantism to Islam. Excuse me for a minute....
That's probably why he said "many" and not "all". But I'm sure there are new variations to come.
A ping to your Catholic list would be appreciated.
Interesting suggestions. But many of the beliefs and practices of Protestantism are actually common to just about any of the earlier heresies: a rejection or weakening of belief in the Trinity, for example, or the rejection of the Eucharist and the sacramental priesthood. Others seem to be regular features of various heresies of "personal revelation," such as Mormonism, which frequently involve an attempt to adopt a distorted form of OT ritual law and a literal adherence to OT practices. As a result they often dabble in polygamy or adopt a decidedly pre-Christian view of women. Bear in mind that Islam developed in a climate that had been heavily influenced by Arian Christianity, and in which the divisions left by Arianism and other heresies made Middle Eastern Christians particularly weak in doctrine and vulnerable to attacks.
However, the idea of the Protestants' literal adherence to a book as being taken from Islam is something I'd never thought of before, and the author may be right on this. To my knowledge, there is no other, earlier Christian heresy that involves an attempt to cling to the literal words of a text. Perhaps it was Islam that suggested this to Luther's mind.
I must say I think this article is a bit over the top, but that said, reading the posts of the Protestants concerning the scriptures it has occurred to me more than once that the Protestant view of those scriptures and to a lesser extent, their view of God, is pretty thoroughly Mohammedan. Now its apparent that Mohammedanism didn't learn to read and use the Koran from Protestants, they didn't create their vengeful and thoroughly capricious god under the influence of Protestants, and they didn't condemn icons or dispense with a priesthood under the influence of Protestantism. Nor is the converse true so far as I know. I do think that both represent a continuing heretical variation of both Jewish and Christian theology and praxis current at the time of their inception, however.
Beat me to it. See post #8!
There are Spanish Jews in India, settled there couple of centuries ago, as a result of fleeing the Catholic church's Inquisition. And those were the lucky ones who could escape.
Do the dots connect with the Islamic aspect now?
Why is it that most Protestant-majority countries are far well-off than most Catholic-majority ones? Is this an ignorant observation, or does it have something to do with that Protestant work ethic that was supposedly famous in that community, years ago?
It's a really interesting suggestion, because the thing that is distinctive about the Protestant heresy (well, in its purest form - latter-day liberal Protestants certainly can't be accused of taking the Bible literally!) is its view of the scriptures. And that of course is a feature only of Islam; while Jews revere Jewish scriptures, they have always interpreted them, so this literalness did not come from the Jews.
One thing that always amazes me is how similar all heresies are, though; I guess there is only a limited number of things you can monkey around with if you feel called to heresy!
I was just in Rome last week, btw, enjoying all those beautiful ancient churches with their glorious Byzantine decoration and the great signs of unity in the orthodox faith. I was really overwhelmed when I thought of this stream of orthodox belief that comes to us from the Apostles. I can't understand why people don't want to be part of it or how they can bear to separate themselves from it to follow some shallow and constantly fragmenting heresy off to its dead end.
I'm not going to bite. I'd rather the discussion focus on the article and not veer off into the boonies.
I'm still undecided as to bothering with the rest of this silly article.
Yep. The author has his hat on backwards.
Amen. And precisely so.
The Reformation was a return to Trinitarian Christianity with Scripture and the leading of the Holy Spirit as preeminent paths to understanding that we are saved by Christ's atonement alone. We work to glorify God; not to appease Him. Christ already accomplished that by being the only propitiation for our sins.
To posture that Islam has anything to do with Christianity of any ilk is preposterous. But if you had to align Islam with one, it would certainly be the church of Rome which insists there are some on earth more deserving of God's grace than others.
"I'm still undecided as to bothering with the rest of this silly article."
Well, I don't know how "silly" it really is. I do think that the author may be attributing a connection running from Mohammedanism to Protestantism which is seeing something which isn't there. But it is fascinating that in two theological systems which The Church views as heretical, we see so many remarkable similarities. Personally I don't think there is a direct connection, but as I said, I do think that the influence of the early Christian heresies which history tells us much of Mohammedanism arose from on the one hand and which Protestantism claims as its religious forebears on the other does show up to this day both in the theologies and the praxis of these two belief systems. I can't say, as I think about it, that that surprises me, but it is interesting nevertheless.
pull this trash!
All Christianity has more in common with Judaism than it does with Islam. The first person of the Trinity, the Father, is the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
In my opinion, Allah is not God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob which means Muslims have no spiritual relationship whatsoever with Jews or Christians.
From that vantage point, the root concept of this article becomes ridiculous.
No! Catholics are constantly bashed here, we Protestants get our turn too.
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