The Sacred Language of the Church

In the midst of the introduction of the new translation of the liturgy (an exercise that is happening in a rather piecemeal fashion not only across the English speaking world, but even in our own country), I heard this morning a comment that should be of interest.

Father, Professor, Doctor Dan Madigan SJ was giving a lecture about dialogue with Muslims. In it, he was raising again the (now classic) corrective that the true correspondence is not Muhummed/Jesus or Koran/Bible, but Koran/Word-of-God/Jesus.

In this connection, he made the comment:

“The true sacred language of the Church is the flesh.”

True, nicht wahr?

About Schütz

I am a PhD candidate & sessional academic at Australian Catholic University in Melbourne, Australia. After almost 10 years in ministry as a Lutheran pastor, I was received into the Catholic Church in 2003. I worked for the Archdiocese of Melbourne for 18 years in Ecumenism and Interfaith Relations. I have been editor of Gesher for the Council of Christians & Jews and am guest editor of the historical journal “Footprints”. I have a passion for pilgrimage and pioneered the MacKillop Woods Way.
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32 Responses to The Sacred Language of the Church

  1. John Nolan says:

    [nb. Comment edited]

    David, it might be true if one knew what the hell you and the learned Jesuit were on about. ….Of course we can dialogue with Moslems on moral and societal issues, and find common ground, but be in no doubt that Islam is in no way compatible with Christianity in religious terms…

    The new translation of the Eucharistic Prayer was introduced in my parish this morning (the congregation have had several weeks getting used to the new responses) and for the first time the vernacular Mass has come into its own. Don’t forget that the translation of the Roman Canon introduced in 1967 was the “dynamically equivalent” and woefully deficient one that was used in the Novus Ordo and which we have been obliged to suffer for an incredible 44 years.

    • Schütz says:


      Perhaps I was taking a little bit for granted in this post, and need to expand the thinking behind it.

      As an aside, Fr Madigan addressed the issue of the Holy Father’s comments about the possibility (or rather impossibility) of “truly inter-religious dialogue in strict terms” with Muslims (a comment he made in a Foreward to a book by another author some years ago). But I won’t go into that here, besides saying since we both have a lot of shared presuppositions religiously speaking (eg. shared narratives of the prophets), there is an opening for some discussion about religious matters.

      One of those “shared presuppositions” is that true religion must arise out of God’s revelation. We both (together with the Jews) use the concept of “the Word of God”. For Muslims, of course, this revealed “Word” is the Koran, which for them perfectly embodies God’s Word and revelation from heaven. For them, therefore, Arabic – the language of the Koran – is a “sacred language” because it is the language God used to reveal his Word. (Similarly, many Jews would regard Hebrew as a kind of “sacred language” since by means of this language the Torah is revealed).

      Fr Madigan was pointing to the assumption on the part of many Muslims that Christians regard their Scriptures analogously as “God’s revealed Word”. However, the analogy is not exact. Primarily for us, God’s Word is the Second Person of the Trinity, Incarnate in the man Jesus. “The Word became Flesh” is our primary statement of God’s self-revelation. Thus, one can speak of “the flesh” as the “sacred language” of Christianity, since the “Word” God primarily used to communicate his revelation is the Incarnate Christ. It is for this reason that translation (whether of the Scriptures or of the Sacred Rites) does not pose for us the same problems that it poses for Jews or Muslims.

      Fr Madigan commented that Muslims have a difficult time in comprehending that we could regard Jesus as “God’s Word” in a way analogous to their regard for the Koran, but that when they do grasp this idea, the dialogue which follows is founded upon a more stable foundation.

  2. Peregrinus says:

    It might not be just Muslims who have difficulty grasping what it means to refer to Jesus as “the Word”; it’s such a staggering idea that it can take Christians a while to come to terms with it too. Indeed, one of the advantages of interreligious dialogue is that when we grapple with other faith’s understandings of concepts like revelation it can help us to articulate our own understanding more clearly.

    In some ways, the Muslim (and Jewish) understanding of revelation is more intuitive, and so easier to grasp. When I want to communicate something true or something important, I express it in words which I speak, or I write down. So it’s not a huge leap to envisage God doing something similar, and scripture is the result. But the staggering fact of the Incarnation is that Jesus did not reveal God primarily by speaking or teaching (though, of course, he both spoke and taught, and what he said and taught is very important) but more fundamentally by being, by living, by incarnating, by entering into enduring relationships of love with humans and with humanity.

    And that thought causes me to reconsider what I just said. It’s important and true that I love my daughter, and I want to communicate that to her. Of course I do tell her that, all the time. But how she will really know that I love her is not by hearing me saying it, but by experiencing my love. So, when we intend to communicate we primarily do so through words. But in fact we communicate all the time in how we live, and in the totality of our relationships with others.

    I was going to quibble and say that what Rev. Fr. Prof. Dr. Madigan meant to say was that the language of God is the flesh, and this is what the Incarnation means. But of course we are made in God’s image; his language is our language, and what Fr. Madigan said was therefore correct.

  3. Hannah says:

    Hello David and Pere I love that quote it’s so deep. whole catechesis could be written and delivered on that quote.
    At the surface level it seems trite but at the deepest level “flesh” is the language of God because in the origin design He created “ha Adam” in his own image and added to that design the extra which is His Spirit. Following that again He speaks in the way of walking again (first in the garden-so to speak, not referring to an afternoon stroll through the forest) in the body and flesh of Jesus.
    That it would be difficult to dialogue with non Christians is understandable because there would have to be an acceptance of the Incarnation of God with the name of Jesus, second person of Trinity. The Muslim faith sees Jesus only as a prophet this cannot get them past to a fecund God, becoming enfleshed in the form of a “Son”
    So the difficulty would be that both sides of theology, Muslim and Christianity, would have to start from the same place, and sorry I cant see that ever happening.

  4. Peregrinus says:

    Hannah, are you assuming that people can only dialogue about what they agree on? I don’t think this is correct. People who disagree can have enormously productive dialogue (and may still end up disagreeing).

    I don’t think it’s right to say that we cannot have a dialogue without “an acceptance of the Incarnation of God with the name of Jesus”. If the dialogue is to make much progress, non-Christians must understand the Christian position on this, or be open to coming to an understanding of it in the course of the dialogue (just as Christian participants must either have, or be open to acquiring, an understanding of Jewish, Muslim, etc positions). But if, by “acceptance”, you mean that the dialogue participants must agree or believe in this then, no. The only belief they need to share is that these things are important enough to be worth talking about.

    • Hannah Smith says:

      Pere we can have marvellous dialogue over marvellous things, over many marvellous times, but if we want to reach the same place we have to at least start with a common understanding of a basic tenet. That we can share dialogue? OK. but if I cannot see Mohammed as the Second person of the Trinity and Muslim cannot see Jesus as the second person of the trinity, God made flesh, then we can share an afternoon turkish coffee and enjoy the dialogue buts thats all.

      • Peregrinus says:

        I have to disagree, Hannah.

        Suppose I’m a Muslim and you and I are engaged in dialogue about the Incarnation. The very fact that you are talking to me about it requires you to talk about the Incarnation in terms that someone who doesn’t already accept it (and probably doesn’t already understand it) can hear and respond to. And that leads you to think about the Incarnation in ways that maybe you hadn’t before, or to see connections or implications that you hadn’t spotted earlier. And that can only improve your understanding of your own faith. And then when I respond to what you say, and explain why I cannot agree, and raise objections, you are led to consider my objections and why they are misplaced (if they are) or how then can be addressed. And this improves your understanding still further. And a converse process happens when I explain to you my understanding of the Unity of God, and why I cannot reconcile this with the Christian notion of the Trinity (I’m still being a Muslim in this example, remember), and you have to think further about what you mean when you talk of three Persons in one God, and whether there is a tension between Trinity and Unity, and what that means for your own faith. (And thinking about the Trinity can never be a bad thing, can it?) And then we both trace our beliefs back to our common Jewish roots, and perhaps involve a Jew in the dialogue, with more mutual benefit all round. And at the end of the day, both of us may (and probably will) still believe what we always believed, but we both understand our own beliefs better (as well, of course, as one another’s).

        That’s a great deal more than even a very good cup of coffee!

  5. PM says:

    You might also say that the language of God – or the language of the Church – is the sacraments that make the Word really present to us. Of course, the Word through whom all things were made can never be completey absent from us, or we would cease to exist. But the sacramental presence is a presence of communication by which we receive a share in the divine life. God, as it were, takes our words and gestures (the sacramentum tantum) and transforms them into His own Word.

    So it’s no coincidence that the liturgy is largely a tapestry of Scripture – something the new translation should make clearer.

    • Peregrinus says:

      “You might also say that the language of God – or the language of the Church – is the sacraments that make the Word really present to us . . . [T]he sacramental presence is a presence of communication by which we receive a share in the divine life. God, as it were, takes our words and gestures (the sacramentum tantum) and transforms them into His own Word.

      Yes. But this in turn brings us to another insight. While we all grew up with “the seven sacraments”, what this shows us is that fundamentally they are all the same sacrament. They are particular moments where we encounter, in both a spiritual and a material way, the living incarnate Word. The ultimate and universal sacrament is the Incarnation.

      It all comes back to the Incarnation, which – and this is the point David started with – is the fundamental and radical difference between Christianity on the one hand and Judaism/Islam on the other. I suspect the big challenge for Jews and Muslims in interreligious dialogue usually comes down to grappling with the Incarnation. The challenge for Christians, I imagine, will usually come down to grappling with Jewish/Muslim understandings of polytheism and idolatry – both concepts firmly grounded in our own tradition, but both also concepts in which, from a Jewish/Muslim perspective, Christian beliefs are extremely problematic.

      • Hannah says:

        So Pere where does this leave us, but sharing a great cuppa of Dilmah tea for some or something stronger for others.
        Could the language of God possibly be L’chaim (life)? And possibly the sacraments be moments of graces either accepted or as in Genesis rejected?
        Could the Incarnation, so difficult to grasp by some ,be so difficult because of the “Apron or tunics of skin”?(huge meaning here)
        Could the sacraments be the slow removal of the “aprons of skin?” and donning of new body/flesh. This too difficult for Judeo/Muslim faith.
        Just thoughts.

        • Peregrinus says:

          I’m not sure where you’re going, Hannah, with the “aprons or tunics of skin” language. I don’t recognise the phrase, and when I google it I get just a single hit. (Good work, there, by the way; it’s difficult to come up with a short phrase to which Google returns only one hit!) That’s too a site called “”, which a very cursory glance suggests is propagating a very dualistic theology, suggesting that we can’t be “purified” until “death (or rapture if that happens to occur first) will free us from the bondage of these sinful bodies, making our cleansing complete”.

          This is the very opposite of what I’m trying to say. (And maybe you agree with me; maybe you cite the “aprons or tunics” language as an example of the kind of thinking that blinds us.) One of the amazing things the Incarnation does is to explode for every the idea that spiritual=good and material=bad; that we are in essence sprits temporarily trapped in inherently defective mortal carcasses. In the Incarnation God incorporates and elevates materiality into Himself; in the light of the Incarnation we can never again see bodiliness as something to escape from.

          We’re not spirits exiled into materiality; as Genesis 1 makes clear, we’re material being infused with the breath of God, and our ultimate perfection is in a resurrected body. And, by the same token, the Incarnation was not a brief aberration in which God took human form, was born, died, resurrected and ascended into heaven, so bringing the embarrassment Incarnation to a convenient close. The Incarnation is a continuing reality – a continuing material reality – which underpins the universe. And the sacraments are the points at which its material reality breaks through into ours.

          Perhaps what should preoccupy us is not the problems that Jews or Muslims have in comprehending the Incarnation, but the problems that we have. The website that my googling took me to is a Christian website, and I think the dualism that it seems to me to express is a constant temptation for the Christian tradition.

          • Hannah Smith says:

            Pere I like this from you “We’re not spirits exiled into materiality; as Genesis 1 makes clear, we’re material being infused with the breath of God, and our ultimate perfection is in a resurrected body” no disagreement with you there but Pere when were “tunics of skins” made for man? what might that say.?
            As for the Incarnation being an abberation, who says, my understanding is that from all time God “walked” with his creation however, the cross is the difference. At the Y junction go way way and you have one ending, go another and you have another ending but the person is still the same. the ending is different. (capisce!)
            As I said in a previous post on this I hadnt gone to site you speak about and dont know much about dualism. However, I do love a good “talk” or dialogue and there are amillion more possible.
            This morning as I went for 8 km walk I pondered on another beauty in between saying Rosary for the BVM’s Birthday today.

            • Peregrinus says:

              The “tunics of skins” turn up in Genesis 3 and I think they refer not to our own skin, but to the clothing that we first wear after the Fall. They are tunics of animal skin – leather- and they go along with fig leaves and other things that, in our fallen condition, we need (and God provides) to cover our nakedness.

              In our sex-obsessed society nakedness has sexual connotations, and clothing is therefore associated with modesty and/or sexual shame. But for a nomadic people living in the desert clothing has other significance. To be naked is to be defenceless and vulnerable. Without clothing in the desert, you will quickly die, if not from the sun then from the dust storms. And, furthermore, to be naked is to be without status or significance; people were recognised and placed in society according to how they dressed.

              God provides Adam and Eve with aprons of fig leaves and tunics of skin not because they are shameful or degraded, but because they are defenceless; this is an act of loving support which sustains life, not diminishes it.

              Thus the tunics of skin are not something that constrain or limit us; rather, they allow us to survive and even transcend the weakness and vulnerability that flows from our fallen condition.

              At least, that’s how I see it.

              When I talk about the Incarnation being an aberration I don’t mean to say that it is an aberration; just that it is sometimes (wrongly) presented or considered as an aberration, a temporary departure from the “norm” for the physical universe. But the truth is the complete opposite. The Incarnation is the norm for the created universe. It is the destiny to which all of creation is called. It is the Fall which is the aberration.

  6. Hannah says:

    Pere glad you went to google because I hadnt even thought of google (wasnt it good I nearly beat google) it was one of those quotes from Genesis 3:20 (Jer. Bible , 1985) I have loved these several words and would have loved to have a doctoral dissertation just on those words. OH goodness they are so important to us and I dont believe we see what they mean. Anyway I wont go into that because other posters will surely called me a heretic and on Tuesday evening after 9 hours of work am too tired to put on combat boots.
    I dont google much Pere, I have about 1000 personal books and love them. however, love your response and especially really love your ideas on “Transfiguration”

  7. At various points in the history of “inter religious dialogue”, the claim was often made that since Jews, Christians, and Muslims are all “People of the Book”, it should be possible for them to engage in fruitful conversation about their distinctive beliefs and practices in the search for identifying their common beliefs and practices.

    The problem with this approach is that Jews and Christians are not “People of the Book”; only Muslims are.

    Jews are people of Torah, but that is not the same as “the Book.” And Christians are people of the Word (eternal, incarnate, written), but that is certainly not the same as “the Book.”

    Muslims, on the other hand, are required to believe that every word of the Quran was written directly by Allah, and therefore it is not possible to translate the original text without committing the crime of blasphemy — substituting the words of men for the Word of God. The Jesuit speaker is correct: the proper analogy is not that what the Bible is for Christians the Quran is for Muslims; rather, what the Lord Jesus is for Christians, the Quran is for Muslims.

    And herein lies one of the most difficult problems for conversation between Islam and the rest of the world. There is simply no possibility for faithful Muslims to accept a translation, let alone a critical study, of the Quran. And this all but makes impossible any attempt in the Muslim world to study and interpret the Quran using any of the tools Christians have taken for granted for hundreds of years. In sum, it leads to the worst sort of arrogant ignorance: God said it, I believe it, that settles it. Let the Jihad begin.

  8. John Nolan says:

    There are other issues. Christians can accept Judaism on more or less its own terms while at the same time realizing that our Lord established a new Covenant : Hic est enim calix sanguinis mei, novi et aeterni testamenti … No Jew can possibly accept this. Christians might be quite flattered that Moslems accept the virgin birth (in contrast to a lot of liberal Christians, both protestant and supposedly Catholic) but their denial of the crucifixion, let alone the resurrection of Jesus makes a nonsense of Christianity. Nor do Christians believe that the Koran is the word of God.

    And as far as language is concerned, Latin is a sacred language by dint of the fact that it has been the prayer of the Western Church for seventeen hundred years. The devil has a particular hatred for it, as any exorcist will attest.

  9. Hannah says:

    John thats what I was trying to say that we can share a cuppa Dilma for some and Chivas Regal for someone else, but the reality is that the Incarnation of God the Son is anathema both to Jewish and Muslim Faith. There is a massive difference between “prophet” and Kyrios, Massiach, Saviour, Messial, Christos, so whilst we can share the creation stories of the sky sun the moon, the planets, the fishes when it comes to humanity we come apart because humanity eventually leads to incarnation of Jesus as Son of God.
    That the Muslim faith accepts Mary, OK, that the Jewish faith accepts that Jesus existed OK, but to go further than that? Not in my lifetime and my hair is still fully untinted and teeth my own and no hip replacements…yet. But we can share discussions and tea etc.

  10. Peregrinus says:

    Of course Jews, Christians and Muslims disagree about important matters. That is what makes them Jews, Christians and Muslims respectively. And it is precisely because they have differing views on certain important questions that discussions between them can be illuminating and enlightening in ways that are not possible if we confine ourselves to dialogue only with people who we are sure already agree with us.

    • Stephen K says:

      I’d like to suggest one thing further, Peregrinus. True dialogue only happens when one (a) entertains the possibility that the other has something to teach us, or something for us to learn, about what we think we know or believe already and (b) considers self-correction an option. Otherwise it is an exercise in condescension. Arrogant ignorance is not confined to those refusing to use critical methods on one’s sacred scriptures.

      • Peregrinus says:

        Hi Stephen

        I’d agree, of course. And I might even go a little further. In being open to learning something from my interlocutor, I am not looking simply at the binary possibility that he is right and I am wrong, or alternatively that I am right and he is wrong. If, as a result of dialogue, I come to understand his position better than I did before, that’s a benefit. If I understand my position better than I did before, that’s a bigger benefit (and I think it’s a very common outcome of dialogue). If both our understandings are improved, that’s better again. Dialogue of this kind is one of the main methods in the wesetern tradition (and not just in that tradition) by which we develop our thinking and understanding.

        And it’s probably worthwhile to correct one or two misunderstandings about Islam that have been expressed in this thread. John Nolan, indeed, has already edited his original post to remove some statements made about Islam (evidence, if evidence is needed, that engaging in dialogue can lead to a better understanding). I think that Fr. Newman’s representation of the place of the Qur’an in Islam is also potentially misleading.

        Muslims regard the text of the Qur’an as dictated by the angel Gabriel (not by God), and therefore as immutable. It’s important to grasp that it’s not the meaning expressed in the text, but the text itself, which has this status. This does indeed mean that, for the Muslim, the Qur’an cannot be “translated”. But we need to add that Muslims can and do produce, and make use of, restatements of the Qur’an in other languages. You can pick up an English-language Qur’an at your local mosque; in fact you’ll probably have a choice available to you. These don’t have the revealed status of the original text and they are referred to as “interpretations” rather than “translations”, reflecting the fact that producing them necessarily involves a host of conscious and unconscious choices about what the original text means, and how that meaning can best be expressed in another language. But the suggestion that engaging in this exercise is a blasphemy is just nonsense; Muslims have been rendering the Qur’an into other languages for centuries.

        The second misconception is that, because Muslims regard the Arabic text as supernaturally dictated, they assume or believe that it has one, simple, clear, universal meaning which requires no interpretation, reflection or analysis (in much the way that some of the loonier fringes of Christian fundamentalism treat the bible).

        They make no such assumption. Precisely because it is the text, not the meaning, which is supernaturally revealed, the meaning is for us to discern. Within the Islamic tradition there is a huge body of commentary, explication and exegesis aimed at exploring the different levels of meaning, import and significance of the Qur’an, or passages of the Qur’an. There are rival interpretations, competing schools of thought, theological dissension, schisms – the full panoply.

        The fact that the text itself is regarded as a “given” means that there are certain enquires which would be made in (most) Christian schools of scriptural engagement but which are not made in Islam – enquiries like- Where did this text come from? What culture produced it? What preceding texts/traditions influenced it? Because the Angel Gabriel dictated the text, it’s assumed that these questions have no relevance. But exactly the same reasoning leads to a high degree of freedom in interpreting and applying the text. Precisely because the text does not come from any human culture, the reader cannot assume that its words mean always and only what they mean in his particular culture. The Qur’an is considered to express a transcendent truth, a spiritual reality which it is not easy for humans to approach. Hence an extraordinary richness of approaches to Qur’anic reading which aim to seek the inward meaning, the implicit meaning, the mystical meaning, the esoteric meaning of the text, as opposed to a simplistic literal meaning.

        • Stephen K says:

          Yes, Peregrinus, I understand completely what you are saying, and agree. I particularly appreciate your point about one of the possible fruits of authentic dialogue as being an enhanced understanding of one’s own framework. At any rate, dialogue of this kind will invariably lead to changes and developments in thinking.

          And your correctives on the misunderstandings and misrepresentations of the Qur’an are important. I have a wonderfully access-friendly book called “101 Questions You Asked About Islam” by Mehmet Ozalp (Brandl & Schlesinger, 2004) as well as an English edition of the Qur’an where the distinction between the sacred words and their meanings is attested to, in the encouragement of the hadiths both for the recitation of the Qur’an and for “efforts toward understanding the Qur’an meanings”.

    • Hannah says:

      Pere I love OT studies and have done much study in that area however, I do know that I look at all OT scripture with certain glasses on, and that is in the light of the fulfilment of all the promises in Jesus. All the language, the types, the “word” spoken and done, all point to fulfilment in one Person. And being married to a Jewish Man myself we have much of these discussions. and we are still married after 408 months. He is still Jewish and I am still Catholic. But I have glimpses of himm…..mmmmmm
      see ya

  11. If I misled, that was unintentional. In fact, I assume that the sort of folk reading this blog already have a vernacular version of the Quran on their shelves. So, allow me to refine my point:

    From the first years of Christianity, it has been possible to translate “the Word of God” contained in Holy Scripture and still call that translation “the Word of God.” But this is not, has never been, and will never be possible for Muslims. Vernacular renderings of the Quran are suffered only to allow infidels to begin to glimpse the glory of Allah from afar, in the hope of leading them to submission, to Islam. And you won’t find those handy translations on hand at mosques except in the corrupt lands of infidels. But if translating the text is possible as described above, subjecting the text to criticism of the sort that Christians now taken for granted in Scripture studies is not and never will be, for that is blasphemy. And even in the West, Muslim scholars who attempt that sort of thing would do well to have someone else start their cars and taste their food.

    • Peregrinus says:

      Again, not quite. Interpretations of the Qur’an in other languages are produced not for the use of infidels, but for the use of anyone, Muslim or not, whose spoken language is not Arabic. How else are we to explain the long-standing existence of translations into Persian, into Urdu, into Malay? The great majority of Muslims are not Arabic speakers. Basically, once you have a Muslim community which is (a) not Arabic-speaking and (b) generally literate, you’ll find translations of the Qur’an being produced for their benefit.

      Translations into “infidel” languages – Latin, French, German, English – have traditionally been produced not by Muslims but by non-Muslims seeking to engage with Islam. It’s only in modern times that we have translations into, e.g., English produced by Muslims, and this is because it’s only in modern times that we have Muslim communities of any significance in English-speaking countries.

      These translations don’t, of course, have the status of the Arabic Qur’an, and Muslims are encouraged to learn Arabic in order to read and reflect upon the revealed text, and to employ it in prayer.

      If Fr. Newman knows of a Muslim scholar who has been poisoned or had his car bombed by those who objected to the critical techniques he employed in Qur’anic studies, now would be a really good time to mention the name of that scholar.

  12. That men and women who do things which are considered blasphemous by Islamofascists end up dead in dreadful ways is a simple fact. That Muslim scholars are routinely intimidated by fear of reprisal for exploring scholarly critiques of Islam is beyond dispute. If Peregrinus has a brief to make for the violence perpetrated every day in the name of Islam, perhaps now is the time to make it.

    And while I’m at it, Peregrinus, your identity here is concealed by a nom de plume. If you want a genuine exchange of ideas, I suggest that you link to your name something that tells us about you and your work. I am pleased to publish in my own name and to engage in conversation with others who do the same, but with those who choose to remain anonymous, I have found that extended exchanges rarely accomplish anything productive.

    • Stephen K says:

      I am sure Peregrinus can respond on his own behalf if he chooses to, but I have to say that your riposte, Father Newman, is hardly worthy. My immediate impression is you’ve felt stung by someone “daring” to correct your statements about the Qur’an and have proceeded to aim your shot at the messenger. Are Peregrinus’ explanations about the status and attitude for the various translations accurate or not? That is the question and your attempt to imply Peregrinus supports any violence by individual Muslims appears crude.

      And your swipe at author identity is no less pointless. It appears to often surface when someone is – temporarily or not – bereft of a counter-argument on the subject. Carried through logically it would mean that you should cease conversing on discussion boards with anyone who does not disclose their full name. Not everyone is (1) inclined to completely trust the reactions of co-contributors; (2) unmindful of consideration for family and relatives, or (3) motivated by what might sometimes be characterised as ego or exhibitionism. And what if they do not have a published body of “work” as you put it to which you seem to wish to refer? Many would not. This discussion board, like many others, is the electronic version of an ecclesia (in the Greek sense) – a meeting place if you will – where it is ideas, not pedigrees, that should be the focus. It shouldn’t matter whether, say, one is a Democrat or Republican supporter: if you can point to the flaws or recognise the merits in the idea he/she proposes, then try to treat it on that level.

      So, on the subject of anti-critical violence, let’s see where we might be. You say violence against Islamic critical scholars is a simple fact. What is the basis of your belief? Is it personal anecdote, trust in the word of Muslims you know who have been subject to or connected with this, or newspaper/television reportage? Do you think that any of these, if reliable, can ground the position which you seem to have taken, that all Muslims regard critical scholarship as blasphemous and worthy of violence and fatwah, or would you be prepared to admit that of course, it would be sweeping and unwarranted to so infer? To my reading, such a position suffers the weakness of all inductive logic: variably good as far as it goes but dashed/limited by the existence of one black swan.

      In the post exchange so far, Peregrinus appears – at least to me – to display the greater acquaintanceship with the Qur’an and the attitudes and approaches to its translations and interpretations. If someone can join who can offer a cogent and coherent corrective to what Peregrinus has said so far, then the exchange may indeed be even more productive and stimulating .

  13. Dear Stephen K,

    Since neither Peregrinus nor you have chosen to work in this medium in the open, preferring anonymity for whatever reason, there is little point in pursuing this further. But since you have posed good questions, I will attempt again to clarify my points.

    I grant that the points made by Peregrinus about the availability of translations of Quran are accurate, but they do not rebut my central point: a translated Bible to an Orthodox Christian is a still a Bible, but the same is simply not true about a translated Quran to an orthodox Muslim. This is one of the many reasons why it is completely accurate to say that the Quran is not to Muslims what the Bible is to Christians.

    As to violence directed by radical Muslims against those whom they deem to be guilty of blasphemy, I suggest that you just read the news services. The brutal murder and near decapitation of film maker Theo van Gogh in the streets of Amsterdam in 2004 and the assassination of Pakistani Minister for Religious Minorities Shahbaz Bhatti in March of this year were the direct result of their work being deemed blasphemous. Finally, here is an AP report from the Boston Globe published five days ago:

    “Also Sunday, two gunmen shot dead an Islamic cleric in Nigeria’s restive northeast.
    Joint Security Task Force spokesman Lt. Col. Hassan Mohammed said Monday that the attack resembled other killings of religious leaders by the radical Muslim Boko Haram sect. Police were alerted about the attack, but the suspects fled before security officials had arrived, he said.
    Isa Mohammed, a student of the slain cleric, said he was visiting Mallam Dala at his house Sunday when two men burst in and shot Dala.
    Boko Haram, whose name means “Western education is sacrilege’’ in the local Hausa language, is responsible for a rash of killings targeting security officers, local leaders and clerics. They claimed responsibility for a bomb that tore through the United Nations’ Abuja headquarters on Aug. 26, killing 23 people and wounding 81. It also has claimed responsibility for a bombing at the nation’s police headquarters that killed two people in June.
    The sect wants to implement a strict version of Shariah law in the nation.
    Associated Press writer Njadvara Musa in Maiduguri, Nigeria contributed to this report.”

    • Peregrinus says:

      Well, Father, Stephen has got in ahead of me, but if I may I will deal briefly with the points you make.

      As regards pseudonymity, others have made the same point to me that you do, and my response has always been the same; I use a pseudonym precisely to avoid any focus on who I am (not that I’m anyone of any particular interest) and maintain the focus on what I say. What I say stands or falls on its own merits, and that’s the way I want to keep it. As you can see from the sidebar, the host of this site is happy to have pseudonymous comments (provided he knows the identity of commentators) and, since he gets to make the rules around here, those are the terms on which we all participate in discussion here.

      As regards Islamist violence, if you have any reason at all to think that I have “a brief to make for the violence perpetrated every day in the name of Islam”, out with it. And if you can give no good reason you should reflect that engaging in overblown hyperbole like this, far from giving the impression that your argument is strong, will rather give us the impression that you have no strong arguments.

      Of course violence is perpetrated in the name of Islam. Violence is perpetrated in the name of Christianity, too. Violence is perpetrated in the name of democracy. Violence is perpetrated in the name of freedom. These observations are trite.

      The question is, is the violence perpetrated in the name of Islam somehow normative, in the way that violence perpetrated in the name of other ideologies is not? Is the hypothetical Muslim who places bomb under the car of a hypothetical Islamic scholar expressing a more authentic form of Islam than the scholar is? Why? Is Fred Phelps a more authentic Christian than the pastor celebrating the funeral that he pickets? Does the Lord’s Resistance Army express a truer Christianity than the Christians that they martyr?

      You are absolutely correct to say that the place the Qur’an holds in Islam does not correspond to the place the Bible holds in Christianity. That’s the point that David makes in his original post, and I think everyone in this thread has expressed agreement with it. Only you, however, found it necessary to underline your agreement with the point by calling attention to violence perpetrated in the name of Islam, in a way which distinctly suggests that you, at any rate, consider Islamist violence to be normative for Islam. No offence, but this probably tells us more about you than it does about Islam.

      And, again, no offence, but we have some reason to regard your characterisations of Islam with a degree of scepticism. Everyone in this thread accepted that a rendering of the Qur’an into other languages lacked the status of the original text. Only you went on to infer – wrongly, and in the teeth of easily available evidence – that it was therefore blasphemous. This does suggest a rather simplistic, black-and-white view which is held, perhaps, because it gratifies you rather than because the objective evidence points to it. And that would be consistent with an assumption that Islamist violence is normative for Islam.

  14. Since a man who does not know me and who hides his identity is now engaged in armchair psychoanalysis of someone unknown to him but with whom he disagrees, I will retire from the field before I become disagreeable. And good luck to those infidels who entrust themselves to the tender mercies of Islam. Enjoy your dhimmitude. Cheers!

    • Peregrinus says:

      I’m sorry if I’ve upset you, Father; it wasn’t my intention. Since you talk of me of “hiding behind” anonymity, and query whether I have “a brief to defend the violence perpetrated every day in the name of Islam” when in fact you have no reason to think that I do, I took it that you favoured a fairly robust style of discourse, and would not object to – perhaps would even relish – replies in kind. Clearly, I was mistaken. I’m happy to withdraw anything that your regard as an unwarranted personal imputation, and hope that will clear the way for you to engage with the substance of the points raised in this discussion.

    • Schütz says:


      Please be nice to my commentators! I know who they are, and that is what is important. You will have to live with the fact that they do not want to publish their full name and address for the whole world, and respond only to their comments!

  15. Schütz says:

    I am sorry I have been too busy to take part directly in this conversation, but in general, reading through it all, I am mightily impressed with the direction you have taken my original thoughts. Thanks to all who have participated.

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