What the Catholic Church actually said about Islam
at the Second Vatican Council in 1964 and 1965

One can hear from some Muslims comments like:

(I asked a very knowledgable Catholic to respond to this claim. In the following you can read his answer.)

As for this person's claims about the Qur'an, rest assured that the Catholic Church said nothing of the kind at the Second Vatican Council. The Council made no reference to Islam, Muhammad, or the Qur'an, but only referred to "Muslims".

For your reference, English translations of the canons and decrees of all Ecumenical Councils, from Nicaea up to Vatican II, can be found at a handy but little-known site called "St. Michael's Depot". This site also has English translations of all papal encyclicals back to 1745 (in the Catholic Church encyclicals are _in a way_ next in authority after councils and the Bible in terms of authoritativeness).

  • St. Michael's Depot: http://abbey.apana.org.au/home_pages/St_Michaels_Depot.htm
  • Decrees of the Ecumenical Councils: http://abbey.apana.org.au/Councils/~Index.Htm
  • Decrees of the Second Vatican Council: http://abbey.apana.org.au/Councils/vatican2/~index.htm

    Vatican II spoke of the Muslims only briefly, and only in minor sections of two documents:

    I. Lumen Gentium [Dogmatic Constitution on the Church], November 21, 1964. This document, which is 77 pages long in the edition I have, devotes one sentence to Muslims. Here is the quotation from Chapter II in context (the entire document can be found at http://abbey.apana.org.au/Councils/vatican2/V2church.Htm):

                         CHAPTER II THE PEOPLE OF GOD
       9. At all times and in every race, anyone who fears God and does what
       is right has been acceptable to him (cf. Acts 10:35). He has, however,
       willed to make men holy and save them, not as individuals without any
       bond or link between them, but rather to make them into a people who
       might acknowledge him and serve him in holiness. He therefore chose
       the Israelite race to be his own people and established a covenant
       with it. He gradually instructed this people -- in its history
       manifesting both himself and the decree of his will -and made it holy
       unto himself. All these things, however, happened as a preparation and
       figure of that new and perfect covenant which was to be ratified in
       Christ, and of the fuller revelation which was to be given through the
       Word of God made flesh. "Behold the days are coming, says the Lord,
       when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house
       of Judah. . . I will put my law within them, and I will write it upon
       their hearts, and they shall be my people . . . For they shall all
       know me from the least of them to the greatest, says the Lord" (Jer.
       31:31-34). Christ instituted this new covenant, namely the new
       covenant in his blood (cf. 1 Cor. 11: 25 ); he called a race made up
       of Jews and Gentiles which would be one, not according to the flesh,
       but in the Spirit, and this race would be the new People of God. For
       those who believe in Christ, who are reborn, not from a corruptible
       seed, but from an incorruptible one through the word of the living God
       (cf. 1 Pet. 1:23), not from flesh, but from water and the Holy Spirit
       (cf. Jn. 3:56), are finally established as "a chosen race, a royal
       priesthood, a holy nation . . . who in times past were not a people,
       but now are the People of God" (1 Pet. 2:910).
       [The document goes on to discuss all those outside the Catholic
       Church, their degree of closeness to the Church, and the amount
       of truth they possess.]
       All men are called to this catholic unity which prefigures and promotes
       universal peace. And in different ways to it belong, or are related:
       the Catholic faithful, others who believe in Christ, and finally all
       mankind, called by God's grace to salvation.
       14. This holy Council first of all turns its attention to the Catholic
       faithful. Basing itself on scripture and tradition, it teaches that
       the Church, a pilgrim now on earth, is necessary for salvation: the
       one Christ is mediator and the way of salvation; he is present to us
       in his body which is the Church. He himself explicitly asserted the
       necessity of faith and baptism (cf. Mk. 16:16; Jn. 3:5), and thereby
       affirmed at the same time the necessity of the Church which men enter
       through baptism as through a door. Hence they could not be saved who,
       knowing that the Catholic Church was founded as necessary by God
       through Christ, would refuse either to enter it, or to remain in it.
       Fully incorporated into the Church are those who, possessing the
       Spirit of Christ, accept all the means of salvation given to the
       Church together with her entire organization, and who -- by the bonds
       constituted by the profession of faith, the sacraments, ecclesiastical
       government, and communion -- are joined in the visible structure of
       the Church of Christ, who rules her through the Supreme Pontiff and
       the bishops. Even though incorporated into the Church, one who does
       not however persevere in charity is not saved. He remains indeed in
       the bosom of the Church, but "in body" not "in heart.''[12] All
       children of the Church should nevertheless remember that their exalted
       condition results, not from their own merits, but from the grace of
       Christ. If they fail to respond in thought, word and deed to that
       grace, not only shall they not be saved, but they shall be the more
       severely judged.[13]
       Catechumens who, moved by the Holy Spirit, desire with an explicit
       intention to be incorporated into the Church, are by that very
       intention joined to her. With love and solicitude mother Church
       already embraces them as her own.
       15. The Church knows that she is joined in many ways to the baptized
       who are honored by the name of Christian, but who do not however
       profess the Catholic faith in its entirety or have not preserved unity
       or communion under the successor of Peter.[14] For there are many who
       hold sacred scripture in honor as a rule of faith and of life, who
       have a sincere religious zeal, who lovingly believe in God the Father
       Almighty and in Christ, the Son of God and the Saviour,[15] who are
       sealed by baptism which unites them to Christ, and who indeed
       recognize and receive other sacraments in their own Churches or
       ecclesiastical communities. Many of them possess the episcopate,
       celebrate the holy Eucharist and cultivate devotion of the Virgin
       Mother of God.[16] There is furthermore a sharing in prayer and
       spiritual benefits; these Christians are indeed in some real way
       joined to us in the Holy Spirit for, by his gifts and graces, his
       sanctifying power is also active in them and he has strengthened some
       of them even to the shedding of their blood. And so the Spirit stirs
       up desires and actions in all of Christ's disciples in order that all
       may be peaceably united, as Christ ordained, in one flock under one
       shepherd.[17] Mother Church never ceases to pray, hope and work that
       this may be achieved, and she exhorts her children to purification and
       renewal so that the sign of Christ may shine more brightly over the
       face of the Church.
       16. Finally, those who have not yet received the Gospel are related to
       the People of God in various ways.[18] There is, first, that people to
       which the covenants and promises were made, and from which Christ was
       born according to the flesh (cf. Rom. 9 :4-5): in view of the divine
       choice, they are a people most dear for the sake of the fathers, for
    *  the gifts of God are without repentance (cf. Rom. 11:29-29). But the
    *  plan of salvation also includes those who acknowledge the Creator, in
    *  the first place amongst whom are the Moslems: 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. Nor is God remote from
       those who in shadows and images seek the unknown God, since he gives
       to all men life and breath and all things (cf. Acts 17:2528), and
       since the Savior wills all men to be saved (cf. 1 Tim. 2:4). Those
       who, through no fault of their own, do not know the Gospel of Christ
       or his Church, but who nevertheless seek God with a sincere heart,
       and, moved by grace, try in their actions to do his will as they know
       it through the dictates of their conscience -- those too many achieve
       eternal salvation.[19] Nor shall divine providence deny the assistance
       necessary for salvation to those who, without any fault of theirs,
       have not yet arrived at an explicit knowledge of God, and who, not
       without grace, strive to lead a good life. Whatever good or truth is
       found amongst them is considered by the Church to be a preparation for
       the Gospel[20] and given by him who enlightens all men that they may
       at length have life. But very often, deceived by the Evil One, men
       have become vain in their reasonings, have exchanged the truth of God
       for a lie and served the world rather than the Creator (cf. Rom. 1:21
       and 25). Or else, living and dying in this world without God, they are
       exposed to ultimate despair. Hence to procure the glory of God and the
       salvation of all these, the Church, mindful of the Lord's command,
       "preach the Gospel to every creature" (Mk. 16:16) takes zealous care
       to foster the missions.
       17. As he had been sent by the Father, the Son himself sent the
       apostles (cf. Jn. 20:21) saying, "go, therefore, and make disciples of
       all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son,
       and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have
       commanded you; and behold I am with you all days even unto the
       consummation of the world" (Mt. 28:18-20). ...

    The Muslims are there, sandwiched between the Jews and other religions. But all this document recognizes, even with its flowery language, is the following:

    1. Muslims acknowledge the Creator.

    2. Muslims profess to hold the faith of Abraham (i.e., they claim that they have the same faith Abraham had).

    3. Like Catholics, Muslims adore (i.e., worship) God, and regard Him as one, merciful, and judging.

    No mention of Muhammad, the Qur'an, or what "Islam" teaches, only what "Muslims" at present believe. And, from my knowledge of the language of Church documents like this, I would not argue that "Muslims" is meant to include every single person who calls himself a Muslim, but only the mass of Muslims in general.

    II. Nostra Aetate [Declaration on the Relation of the Church to Non-Christian Religions], October 28, 1965. This document, 4 pages long, devotes slightly less than half a page to Muslims. Here is the quotation in context (the entire translated document can be found at http://abbey.apana.org.au/Councils/vatican2/V2non.Htm):

                                   Nostra Aetate
                                  October 28 1965
       1. In this age of ours, when men are drawing more closely together and
       the bonds of friendship between different peoples are being
       strengthened the Church examines with greater care the relation which
       she has to non-Christian religions. Ever aware of her duty to foster
       unity and charity among individuals, and even among nations, she
       reflects at the outset on what men have in common and what tends to
       promote fellowship among them.
       All men form but one community. This is so because all stem from the
       one stock which God created to people the entire earth (cf. Acts
       17:26), and also because all share a common destiny, namely God. His
       providence, evident goodness, and saving designs extend to all men
       (cf. Wis. 8:1: Acts 14:17: Rom. 2:6 7: I Tim. 2:4) against the day
       when the elect are gathered together in the holy city which is
       illumined by the glory of God, and in whose splendor all peoples will
       walk(cf. Apoc 21:23 ff.).
       Men look to their different religions for an answer to the unsolved
       riddles of human existence. The problems that weigh heavily on the
       hearts of men are the same today as in the ages past. What is man?
       What is the meaning and purpose of life? What is upright behavior, and
       what is sinful? Where does suffering originate, and what end does it
       serve? How can genuine happiness be found? What happens at death? What
       is judgment? What reward follows death? And finally, what is the
       ultimate mystery, beyond human explanation, which embraces our entire
       existence, from which we take our origin and towards which we tend?
       2. Throughout history even to the present day, there is found among
       different peoples a certain awareness of a hidden power, which lies
       behind the course of nature and the events of human life. At times
       there is present even a recognition of a supreme being or still more
       of a Father. This awareness and recognition results in a way of life
       that is imbued with a deep religious sense. The religions which are
       found in more advanced civilizations endeavor by way of well-defined
       concepts and exact language to answer these questions. Thus in
       Hinduism men explore the divine mystery and express it both in the
       limitless riches of myth and the accurately defined insights of
       philosophy. They seek release from the trials of the present life by
       ascetical practices, profound meditation and recourse to God in
       confidence and love. Buddhism in its various forms testifies to the
       essential inadequacy of this changing world. It proposes a way of life
       by which men can with confidence and trust, attain a state of perfect
       liberation and reach supreme illumination either through their own
       efforts or by the aid of divine help. So. too, other religions which
       are found throughout the world attempt in their own ways to calm the
       hearts of men by outlining a program of life covering doctrine, moral
       precepts and sacred rites.
       The Catholic Church rejects nothing of what is true and holy in these
       religions. She has a high regard for the manner of life and conduct,
       the precepts and doctrines which, although differing in many ways from
       her own teaching, nevertheless often reflect a ray of that truth which
       enlightens all men. Yet she proclaims and is in duty bound to proclaim
       without fail, Christ who is the way, the truth and the life (Jn. 1:6).
       In him, in whom God reconciled all things to himself (2 Cor. 5:18-19),
       men find the fullness of their religious life.
       The Church therefore, urges her sons to enter with prudence and
       charity into discussion and collaboration with members of other
       religions. Let Christians, while witnessing to their own faith and way
       of life, acknowledge, preserve and encourage the spiritual and moral
       truths found among non-Christians, also their social life and culture.
    *  3. The Church has also a high regard for the Muslims. They worship
    *  God, who is one, living and subsistent, merciful and almighty, the
    *  Creator of heaven and earth,[1] who has also spoken to men. They
    *  strive to submit themselves without reserve to the bidden decrees of
    *  God, just as Abraham submitted himself to God's plan, to whose faith
    *  Muslims eagerly link their own. Although not acknowledging him as God,
    *  they worship Jesus as a prophet, his virgin Mother they also honor,
    *  and even at times devoutly invoke. Further, they await the day of
    *  judgment and the reward of God following the resurrection of the dead.
    *  For this reason they highly esteem an upright life and worship God,
    *  especially by way of prayer, alms-deeds and fasting.
    *  Over the centuries many quarrels and dissensions have arisen between
    *  Christians and Muslims. The sacred Council now pleads with all to
    *  forget the past, and urges that a sincere effort be made to achieve
    *  mutual understanding; for the benefit of all men, let them together
    *  preserve and promote peace, liberty, social justice and moral values.
       4. Sounding the depths of the mystery which is the Church, this sacred
       Council remembers the spiritual ties which link the people of the New
       Covenant to the stock of Abraham.
       The Church of Christ acknowledges that in God's plan of salvation the
       beginning of her faith and election is to be found in the patriarchs.
       Moses and the prophets. She professes that all Christ's faithful, who
       as men of faith are sons of Abraham (cf. Gal. 3:7), are included in
       the same patriarch's call and that the salvation of the Church is
       mystically prefigured in the exodus of God's chosen people from the
       [1. Cf. St. Gregory VII, Letter 21 to Anzir (Nacir), King of
       Mauretania (PL, 148, col. 450 ff.).]

    So here the Muslims appear, after the Buddhists and before the Jews. Because this document is concerned specifically with non-Christian religions, it talks more about Muslims than Lumen Gentium does. Nevertheless, all it claims about Muslims is the following:

    1. The Catholic Church has a high regard for Muslims. (This "regard" is genuine, but it should not be exaggerated, since Church documents are always written in a polite diplomatic language wherein even a power-hungry king who has just plundered papal lands can be referred to as an "august and pacific ruler".)

    2. Muslims worship God. (More so than in Lumen Gentium, the Church seems to declare as a fact here that Muslims regard God as one, living, subsistent, merciful, almighty, and as having "spoken to men". Note that the last phrase means only that "They worship God, ... who has spoken to men." There is no recognition of Muhammad or the Qur'an necessarily implied here.)

    3. Muslims try to submit to God's will, which is hidden, just as Abraham submitted.

    4. Muslims eagerly link their faith to that of Abraham. (I.e., they claim their faith is the same as Abraham's.)

    5. Muslim do not acknowledge Jesus as God, but do worship him as a prophet. (Here "worship" would seem to be a flowery term denoting a reverence or adoration less than what one would give to a deity.)

    6. Muslims also honor and sometimes devoutly invoke Mary. (The sentence also implies that Muslims accept Mary's virginity.)

    7. Muslims believe in a day of judgment and the reward of God following the resurrection of the dead.

    8. Muslims highly esteem an upright life.

    9. Muslims worship God, especially by way of prayer, alms-deeds and fasting.

    10. Muslims and Christians have quarreled many times.

    Again, no recognition of Muhammad, the Qur'an, the correctness of what Muhammad taught, or any assertion that what "Muslims" believe today is necessarily identical with what Muhammad taught. It is recognized that there is some truth among Muslims, but there is no recognition given of any specific revelation except to the Jews and Christians. So, as becomes clear in other Church documents, whatever truth there may be in what Muslims believe must come either from the universal truths that God has always made accessible to the minds and hearts of all people, or else by transmission from the divine revelation granted to the Jews and Christians.

    I hope this will help you to dispel the misunderstandings about Vatican II that appear so frequently.

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