Star and Crescent Rising:

Christendom Lost in Islam's Shadow

Timothy J. Cullen


( Muslims do not take lightly any sort of perceived disrespect to their faith, as the world has seen graphically demonstrated in recent weeks. While their actions have been extreme, their outrage is something with which Traditional Catholics might well sympathize were the figure of mockery our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

But… wait a moment. The Holy Persons of Catholicism have been mocked, continue to be mocked, in the press, in films, in works of “art,” etc., and the Catholic response to this has been and continues to be, well… in the word used by St. Paul: “lukewarm.” This was not always the case, of course. There was a time when the sort of mockery and disrespect now taken for granted in Christendom would have meant the death penalty for the offender. There was a very clear dividing line between the sacred and the profane in those days, a line that these days has all but disappeared in what was once the Social Kingdom of Christ.

It has not disappeared in the Islamic societies which are now the target of a secular materialistic assault on their “freedom of choice” with respect  to societal customs based on their religion, however misguided their religion is. Those in the West who would prefer a society that conforms more closely to traditional Catholic Social Teaching will understand the resistance offered by the tens of millions of Muslims who have not capitulated to the secular materialist vision of society, and struggle to refuse to do so. Their tolerance of secular materialism is as limited as that of the secular materialists who wish to undermine what remains of the Catholic foundation of the West.

Why is it that Muslim societies remain more closely tied to their tradition? Why is it that this “Third World” religion is so much more fervently defended by its faithful than is the religion that raised up pagan, barbarous Europe into the civilization that would apply the teachings of the Church on reason and private property to lay the foundation for the greatness of Christendom, a trans-national society that at its apex represented the most perfect fusion of the sacred and secular the world had yet seen. Why is it that Muslim societies have held fast to the sacred as they define it, while Christendom has fallen into the error of valuing the profane over the sacred?

These are not easily answered questions, but the correct answers must be sought for, because upon correctly answering these questions, the near-term (at least) future of the West—indeed the world—may depend.

The late Hilaire Belloc maintained in his 1936 work The Great Heresies that:

Cultures spring from religions; ultimately the vital force which maintains any culture is its philosophy, its attitude toward the universe; the decay of a religion involves the decay of the culture corresponding to it—we see that most clearly in the breakdown of Christendom today. The bad work begun at the Reformation is bearing its final fruit in the dissolution of our ancestral doctrines—the very structure of our society is dissolving.

Seventy years later, that dissolution has attacked even the Roman Catholic Church itself. “Christendom” is now a historical term, not a societal or even cultural reality. Yet Islam has begun to find a unity among its adherents and a kind of cohesion in its reaction against secular materialism, the “fruit” of the poisoned tree of the Reformation.

A recent (10 Jan. 2006) article in the online journal “Asia Times” by “Spengler” (a nom de plume) cites a radio transcript of an interview with Fr. Joseph Fessio, SJ, a former student and friend of Benedict XVI in which the pope implied that Islam could not undergo a reformation and for that reason will be unable to “to enter into real dialogue and live together with other religions and other kinds of cultures.” The text of the transcript quotes Benedict XVI as having said:

Well, there’s a fundamental problem with that because in the Islamic tradition, God has given His word to Mohammed, but it’s an eternal word. It’s not Mohammed’s word. It’s there for eternity the way it is. There’s no possibility of adapting it or interpreting it, whereas in Christianity, and Judaism, the dynamism’s completely different that God has worked through his creatures. And so it is not just the word of God, it’s the word of Isaiah, not just the word of God, but the word of Mark. He’s used his human creatures, and inspired them to speak his word to the world, and therefore by establishing a church in which he gives authority to his followers to carry on the tradition and interpret it, there’s an inner logic to the Christian Bible, which permits it and requires it to be adapted and applied to new situations.

This attribution has created something of a polemic, because as “Spengler” rightly notes: “Strange as it may seem, the pope must whisper when he wants to state agreement with conventional Muslim opinion, namely that the Koranic prophecy is fixed for all time such that Islam cannot reform itself. If Islam cannot change, then a likely outcome will be civilizational war, something too horrific for U.S. leaders to contemplate.”

Fr. Fessio has since “clarified” his remarks, stating in a letter to the Washington Times: “The most important clarification is that the Holy Father did not say, nor did I, that ‘Islam is incapable of reform’.”

The Traditional Catholic might well ask whether the Holy Father believes that the Roman Catholic Church needed reform, or needs further reform. A piece authored by the Holy Father in the January 2006 edition of First Things makes one wonder about his position with respect to the Reformation, if the inferences drawn by “Spengler” (I have not been able to obtain the article) are correct.

According to “Spengler,” Benedict XVI expressed admiration for “the U.S. separation of church and state.” He attributes to Benedict the assertion “that the U.S. model is what the early church really had in mind,” adding that this position is derived “from the famous argument of Pope Gelasius I (492-496) [sic: the true title is Saint Gelasius I] that ‘because of human weakness (pride!), they have separated the two offices’ of king and priest.”

It appears that other “famous” arguments of St. Gelasius I were not offered in support of this position, among which was that stated in a letter to the emperor which read: “Mark this well: when the see of the Blessed Peter pronounces judgment, no one is permitted to judge that judgment,” and also the assertion before the emperor that sacerdotal authority was superior to that of the laical (“secular” was not yet a category, given that all were members of the Church) order.

These arguments by St. Gelasius I hardly lend credence to the proposition that a separation of church and state was favored by St Gelasius I, at least not a separation of the sort Benedict XVI seems to advocate.

Muslim societies seem to be moving in the political direction indicated by St. Gelasius I in the arguments cited by me supra, drawn from the highly informative but not well known historical work The Church in the Dark Ages, by Henri Daniel-Rops, the pen name of the late Henri Jules Charles Petiot, member of the Academie Français  and winner of its Grand Prix.

“Spengler” finds it “most promising that a European, indeed one who speaks with the authority of the throne of St Peter, has explained the difference between the Christian foundation of the U.S. political system and theocratic Islam…”.

Muslim societies appear to find the U.S. political system less promising, favoring instead a more direct link between their faith and the governance of their laical societies. This, as I suggested in the Jan. 31st edition of The Remnant, is an option that Traditional Catholics, indeed all Christians, might well consider. It is not necessary to found a theocracy, but it is neither necessary nor advisable to separate one’s faith from one’s politics, a lesson that has not fallen upon deaf ears in Muslim societies.

The Holy Father favors the American model of the relation between one’s faith and one’s politics, judging from the following: “Formed on the basis of free churches, it adopts a separation between church and state. Above and beyond the single denominations, it is characterized by a Protestant [emphasis mine] Christian consensus that is not defined in denominational terms but rather in association with its sense of a special religious mission toward the rest of the world.”

I for one doubt that this is what St. Gelasius I “really had in mind,” but without having read the full essay by the Holy Father, I am not truly in a position to judge. For that matter, according to St Gelasius I, I am not permitted to judge, whatever the Holy Father may have written. So it once was in Christendom, and so it is for Muslims with respect to what is written in the Koran.

This distinction is what makes it almost certain that Islam—though divided by sects—will not undergo the divisive and societally suicidal effects of a subversive reformation of their faith that will degenerate into secular materialism, the fate suffered by Christendom. The strength of their faith will permit the faithful to emerge ever more into the “supra-political force with the potential to have a decisive impact on political life” that Benedict XVI claims for the “religious sphere” in the U.S. model.

Hilaire Belloc wrote in the abovementioned fourth chapter of Great Heresies, among which he included Islam, referring to “reformation,” that “in Islam there has been no such dissolution of ancestral doctrine—or, at any rate, nothing corresponding to the universal break-up of religion in Europe. The whole spiritual strength of Islam is still present in the masses of Syria and Anatolia, of the East Asian mountains, of Arabia, Egypt and North Africa.”

Belloc predicted a resurgence of Islam, claiming: “The final fruit of this tenacity, the second period of Islamic power, may be delayed: but I doubt whether it can be permanently postponed.”

Whether or not Belloc will prove prescient in this prediction, as he has in no small number of others, only time will tell. But no one can doubt the Muslims’ tenacity.

Among the reasons cited for this tenacity with respect to their faith is the low rate of literacy in the Muslim world and the relative lack of access to information that this brings about. The implication, of course, is that fervently religious people are likely to be ignorant, or, worse, illiterate, a typical secular materialist premise. The secular materialist equates religion with superstition, sure in his (or her!) presumption that the intellect can substitute for the soul, that “reason” has no need of faith, that the presumptuous intellect is in itself the be-all and end-all of the universe. The intellect guided by reason and grounded in the soul knows better, however minimal its access to abstract information.

It is well to remember that the Islamic world has no mean history of intellectual accomplishment, and that we owe it no small amount of gratitude for what has been learned from it. “Algebra” is a word derived from Arabic, as the mathematical discipline it describes was formulated by the Muslims. Our numerals are “Arabic” numerals. And there is much, much more. St. Thomas Aquinas was able to interpret Aristotle thanks to translations made by Muslims.

The Koran has been translated into many languages so that non-Arabic-speaking believers could better understand the text; recitation of the Koran, however, is only in Arabic. The Muslims have preserved their liturgical tradition and the use of a “universal” language, thus strengthening the universality of their faith among believers. As Traditional Catholics well know, the abandonment of the Latin liturgy has weakened and divided the universality of the Roman Catholic Church.

Unquestioning preservation of time-honored tradition is not a sign of intellectual inadequacy; it is a sign of intellectual humility, the recognition that the sacred need not be changed, nor should attempts to change it be made. It is unfortunate but explicable that Muslims understand this better than most Christians, with no small number of Catholic religious included: Islam may be sectarian, but it has never suffered the effects of a “reform.” It is time for believers in Christ to recognize this and reunite in the only universal Church in the West, not to embrace ecumenism and further undermine the base of Faith necessary for the survival of the West as a society that embraces faith and reason, to re-form the Christendom that stood fast against the Islamic heresy.

It is not the Muslims who need “re-education.” The immortal words of the cartoon character Pogo said it best: “We have met the enemy and he is us.”