On Aug. 2, 2011, Robert Sungenis and Peter Dimond debated whether Nostra Aetate #3 of Vatican 2 is false, heretical, and contrary to the teaching of the Catholic Church. The relevant portion of the Vatican 2 passage reads:
“The Church also regards the Moslems with esteem. They adore the one God, living and subsisting in Himself; merciful and all- powerful, the Creator of heaven and earth, who has spoken to men; they take pains to submit wholeheartedly to even His inscrutable decrees, just as Abraham, with whom the faith of Islam takes pleasure in linking itself, submitted to God. Though they do not acknowledge Jesus as God, they revere Him as a prophet… Finally, they value the moral life and worship God especially through prayer, almsgiving and fasting.””
Dr. Sungenis posted final comments on the debate on his website here: http://catholicintl.com/
One conspicuous element that jumps out about Sungenis’ handling of the debate is this: he focuses on heresy but sidesteps the other agreed upon aspects that were to be discussed. Thus, he doesn’t address (other than by implication) whether the teaching of Nostra Aetate is false, but only if it was heretical. Sungenis states, “Since there has been no dogmatic and infallible teaching on where the Muslims stand in relation to God, then NA3 cannot be in heresy. Heresy is a repudiation of a defined dogma.”
There are different degrees of false teachings, however, known as censures. A teaching can be false without being directly heretical. For instance, there are the “proximate to heresy,” “erroneous proposition,” “false proposition,” “offensive to pious ears,” “captious proposition” and “proposition exciting scandal” censures. If NA3 falls within the scope of any of these censors, then the debate turns to Peter Dimond’s favor.
Unfortunately, Peter Dimond didn’t catch this omission by Sungenis, thus failed to capitalize on this crucial factor of the debate.
In his final comments, Sungenis breaks down the debate to two points.
First, Peter Dimond claims that the church’s esteeming the Muslims is heretical. Sungenis writes that it is not heresy in light of St. Paul saying the pagans of Athens were very religious. Therefore, Paul esteemed their religiosity which is the same as Vatican 2’s esteeming the Muslims. In Acts 17, I submit that St. Paul was not esteeming the Athenians for their religiosity. He stated, “I perceived that in every way you are very religious.” Mere perception of religiosity doesn’t necessarily mean or imply esteem. St. Paul saw their false religiosity and called them to turn it towards Christ. Sungenis’ argument overplays St. Paul’s statements.
Sungenis also writes, “Romans 1:18-20 says that man, without direct revelation, can offer God “glory and thanks” (Greek: doxa & echaristes) by the gift of reason God has given him. Is that not worship in some sense?”
Let’s think about this for a moment. Esteem means a favorable regard and respect. Should the Church give favorable regard and respect to Muslims just because of their religiosity? Should the Church give favorable regard to Satanists because of their religiosity? Muslims blaspheme the most Holy Trinity and reject Jesus as Lord God, and yet NA3 is saying that the Church esteems them because they worship the one true God, revere Christ as a [mere] prophet, and value the moral life. If esteem is to be given to mere religious people, does this mean it is right to esteem all religious people regardless what they believe, hold, and practice?
As for Sungenis’ comment of Roman 1:18-20, it doesn’t apply to Muslims, because Muslims reject the most Holy Trinity as they kill Christians because of their belief in Christ as God.
NA3 may not be directly heretical on this point, but it most certainly falls under several other censures of falsehood. Therefore, Peter Dimond could have conceded that NA3 was not heretical on this point, and Sungenis should have conceded that it was at least false. It would appear that both of them were more interested in winning a debate than admitting the truth.
Secondly, Peter Dimond argues that NA3 is heretical because it asserts that Muslims offer true worship to God.
In his final commentary, as well as in the debate, Sungenis misses the point of the argument because Peter is not arguing that NA3 is saying Muslims worship God in truth, but that that they have a true worship of God. In other words, Peter Dimond is arguing that Muslims don’t worship the true God at all, therefore, Muslims don’t have a true worship of God. Unfortunately again, Peter Dimond doesn’t point out Sungenis’ misrepresentation of the argument very well.
While Sungenis is correct that NA3 is not saying that Muslims worship God in truth, he is incorrect in accepting NA3’s teaching that Muslims indeed worship the true God. LG 16 of Vatican 2 declared, “Muslims…profess to hold the faith of Abraham and along with us they worship the one merciful God who will judge mankind on the last day.”
Because Muslims profess to hold the faith of Abraham doesn’t mean they actually do hold the faith of Abraham. In John chapter 8, Jesus was quite clear about the Jews who made the same claim as Muslims. Both reject Jesus is God, therefore, their father is the devil.
Also, Muslims don’t profess to worship along with us the same merciful God who will judge mankind on the last day. Muslims hold that Jesus will judge mankind on the last day, but that He is not the merciful God. They also admit that we don’t worship the same God, because we believe in the Trinity which they call a satanic doctrine.
In the debate, Sungenis argues the NA3 was referring to what Muslims profess to hold, but this is incorrect. The context of NA3 is what Muslims actually hold.
Muslims reject Jesus as God and therefore cannot possibly worship the true God. You cannot reject God as God and offer worship to Him at the same time. Since NA3 teaches that Muslims offer worship to the one true God, then by implication, NA3 is teaching that one can reject Jesus as God but worship the true God. This is a heresy, because it contradicts the dogma that Jesus is one with the Father and the Spirit. It thoroughly contradicts Christ’s teaching in John 8 and 14.
I submit that NA3 is false when it states, “they value the moral life.” Muslims don’t value the moral life entirely, therefore, it cannot be said that they value the moral life. Example: If I reject fornication but not artificial contraception, then it cannot be said of me that I value the moral life. To value the moral life, one must value it entirely.
Who won the debate? It’s not who wins debates, but who is ultimately right. Both of them were right on some points and both of them were wrong on some points. However, I do submit that NA3 is simply false and heretical and contradicts the teachings of Christ and the historic Catholic Faith.