The seventh chapter of the Qur’an is named “The Elevations.” The Elevations refers both to purgatory — the realm between heaven and hell — and the life of the believer struggling with sin. The Qur’anic author mixes references to both to emphasize the moral sense of the scripture, as did St Paul and the Church Fathers. Obedience to the Apostles of God is urged: every believer with the Book in him is an apostle. That belief, that the Scriptures speaks directly to the believer and that no teaching authority is needed has been widespread in Christian history, down through Blesseds of the Church and popular Christian music.
Paradise, The Elevations, and the Fire
In the Gospels, Christ gave a parable of communication between those in different places or states in the afterlife. In part:
So it was that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s bosom. The rich man also died and was buried.And being in torments in Hades, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom.
“Then he cried and said, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame.’ But Abraham said, ‘Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things; but now he is comforted and you are tormented. And besides all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed, so that those who want to pass from here to you cannot, nor can those from there pass to us.'”
What Christ described as part of the afterlife, the Holy Spirit (speaking through the Prophets) described as part of life: a mark caused by man’s sin:
Now the glory of the God of Israel had gone up from the cherub, where it had been, to the threshold of the temple. And He called to the man clothed with linen, who had the writer’s inkhorn at his side; and the Lord said to him, “Go through the midst of the city, through the midst of Jerusalem, and put a mark on the foreheads of the men who sigh and cry over all the abominations that are done within it.”
To the others He said in my hearing, Go after him through the city and kill; do not let your eye spare, nor have any pity. Utterly slay old and young men, maidens and little children and women; but do not come near anyone on whom is the mark; and begin at My sanctuary.” So they began with the elders who were before the temple.”
The inhabitants of paradise will call out to the inmates of the fire. ‘We found what our Lord promised us to be true; did you find what your Lord promised you to be true?’ ‘Yes,’ they will say. Then a caller will announce in their midst, ‘May God’s curse be on the wrongdoers!’ — Those who bar from the way of God, and seek to make it crooked, and disbelieve in the Hereafter.
There will be a veil between them. On on the Elevations will be certain men who recognize each of them by their mark. They will call out to the inhabitants of paradise, ‘Peace be to you!’ They will not have entered it, though they would be eager to do so. When their look is turned toward the inmates of the Fire, they will say, ‘Our Lord, do not put us among the wrongdoing lot!
The occupants of the Elevations will call out to certain men who they recognize by their marks, ‘Your rallying did not avail you, nor what you used to disdain. Are these the ones concerning whom you swore that God will not extend them any mercy?’ Enter paradise! You shall have no fear, nor shall you grieve.
The Qur’anic author is using the moral sense of the scripture, as “the elevations” are, for him, the life of the believer who has not yet ascended fully into grace. The elevations are elevations only relative to the Fire. Compared to Heaven they are below. This is why writers from Dante to Thomas Merton have described purgatory as a “mountain.”
The Moral Sense of the Scripture
This sense — the sense of the application of the scripture to one’s personal life — is the moral sense of the scripture. The underworld, the wilderness, Egypt — all of these are what God saves us from…
Fleeing Egypt — that is, fleeing worldly things — they have killed Pharaoh and drowned all his army in the waters of baptism. Now, after the devil has been killed, they long for the springs of the Church : the father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit
“Homily on Psalm 41 to the Newly Baptized,” St. Jerome
the analogy works the other way direction too: the Exodus as a type of baptism:
For I do not want you to be ignorant of the fact, brothers and sisters, that our ancestors were all under the cloud and that they all passed through the sea. They were all baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea. They all ate the same spiritual food 4 and drank the same spiritual drink; for they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ. Nevertheless, God was not pleased with most of them; their bodies were scattered in the wilderness.
1 Corinthians 10:1-5
So We took vengeance on [Pharaoh’s men] and drowned them in the Sea [“Yamm”], for they impugned Our signs and were obvious to them.
We made the people who were oppressed heirs to the east and west of the land which We had blessed, and your Lord’s best word was fulfilled for the Children of Israel because of their patience, and We destroyed what Pharaoh and his people had built and whatever they used to erect.
that which we sin by our desire to return to, by worshiping those foreign gods:
We carried the Children of Israel across the sea, whereat they came upon a people attending to certain idols that they had. They said, ‘O Moses, make for us a god like the gods that they have.’
He said, ‘You indeed are an ignorant lot. What they are engaged is is indeed bound to perish, and what they have been doing shall come to naught.
He said, ‘Shall I find you a god other than God, while He has graced you over all the nations?’
And lacking gratitude for the One who sustains us:
And they journeyed from Elim, and all the congregation of the children of Israel came to the Wilderness of Sin, which is between Elim and Sinai, on the fifteenth day of the second month after they departed from the land of Egypt. Then the whole congregation of the children of Israel complained against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness. And the children of Israel said to them, “Oh, that we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the pots of meat and when we ate bread to the full! For you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.”
But from the beginning, even before the Jews, men knew the forces of chaos could not withstand the wrath of heaven:
The Sea [“Yamm”] collapsed! He fell to the earth!
His joints trembled, his frame collapsed
Ba’al destroyed and drank Sea!
He brought Judge River to an end!
“The Ba’al Cycle“
The Mission of the Apostle
The righteous will be those who have been guided by the apostles:
As for those who have faith and do righteous deeds — We task no soul except according to its capacity — they shall be the inhabitants of paradise and they shall remain in it. We will remove whatever rancor there is in their breasts, and streams will run from them.
They will say, ‘All praise belongs to God, who guided us to this. Had not God guided us, we would have never been guided. Our Lord’s apostles have certainly brought us the truth,’ The call will be made to them: ‘This is the paradise, which you have been given to inherit because of what you used to do!’
But the Qur’anic author believes that apostolic succession was broken — there was a “gap in the apostles” (Qur’an 5:19) which ended an earlier apostolic age So not only can’t the Apostles on earth intercede from us, they do not share their offices linearly from the Twelve, but from another source:
Certainly We have brought them a Book which We have elaborated with knowledge, as guidance and mercy for a people who have faith. Do they await anything but its fulfillment? The day when its fulfillment comes, those who had forgotten it before will say, ‘Our Lord’s apostles had certainly brought the truth. Do we have any intercessors to intercede for us, or could we be returned, so that we may act differently from what we used to?! They have already ruined their souls, and what they used to fabricate has forsaken them.
Your Lord is indeed God, who created the heavens and the earth in six days, and then settled on the Throne. He draws the night’s cover over the day, which pursues it swiftly, and the sun, the moon, and the stars, disposed by His command. Lo! All creation and command belong to Him. Blessed is God, the Lord of all the worlds.
So who are The Apostles and The Apostle, referenced in the Qur’an?
Those who follow the Apostle, the gentile prophet, whose mention they find written with them in the Torah and the Gospel, who bids them to do what is right and forbids them from what is wrong, makes lawful to them all the good things and forbids them from all vicious things, and relieves them of their burdens and the shackles that were upon them — those who believe in him, honor him, and help him and follow the light that has been sent down with him, they are felicitous.
Clearly, whoever the Qur’an is addressed to:
Say, ‘O mankind! I am the Apostle of God to you all, to whom belongs the kingdom of the heavens and the earth There is no god except Him. He gives life and brings death.’
So have faith in God and His Apostle, the untaught prophet, who has faith in God and His words, and follow him so that you may be guided.
The Jewish and Christian Foundations of Qur’anic Thought
The Qur’an insists over and over again on The Book:
A Book that has bee sent down to you and as an admonition for the faithful; so let there be no disquiet in your heart on its account that you may warn thereby.
follow what has been sent down to you from your Lord, and do not follow any masters besides Him. Little is the admonition that you take!
The word of God in Christ is seen by the Qur’anic author as part of the Book, along with other revelations:
The Book does not stay in heaven, but has been handed down to all believers:
The LORD your God will make you abound in all the work of your hand, in the fruit of your body, in the increase of your livestock, and in the produce of your land for good. For the LORD will again rejoice over you for good as He rejoiced over your fathers, if you obey the voice of the LORD your God, to keep His commandments and His statutes which are written in this Book of the Law, and if you turn to the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul.
“For this commandment which I command you today is not too mysterious for you, nor is it far off. It is not in heaven, that you should say, ‘Who will ascend into heaven for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?” Nor is it beyond the sea, that you should say, ‘Who will go over the sea for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?’ But the word is very near you, in your mouth and in your heart, that you may do it.
The Apostle spoken of in the Torah is, I think, the reader of the Book
Go and gather the elders of Israel together, and say to them, ‘The LORD God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob, appeared to me, saying, “I have surely visited you and seen what is done to you in Egypt; and I have said I will bring you up out of the affliction of Egypt to the land of the Canaanites and the Hittites and the Amorites and the Perizzites and the Hivites and the Jebusites, to a land flowing with milk and honey.”‘ Then they will heed your voice; and you shall come, you and the elders of Israel, to the king of Egypt; and you shall say to him, ‘The LORD God of the Hebrews has met with us; and now, please, let us go three days’ journey into the wilderness, that we may sacrifice to the LORD our God.’ But I am sure that the king of Egypt will not let you go, no, not even by a mighty hand. So I will stretch out My hand and strike Egypt with all My wonders which I will do in its midst; and after that he will let you go. And I will give this people favor in the sight of the Egyptians; and it shall be, when you go, that you shall not go empty-handed.
On the Elevations, the Apostle can know he is not in the Fire, but also that he is not in Paradise yet:
And the Father Himself, who sent Me, has testified of Me. You have neither heard His voice at any time, nor seen His form. But you do not have His word abiding in you, because whom He sent, Him you do not believe. You search the Scriptures, for in them you think you have eternal life; and these are they which testify of Me. But you are not willing to come to Me that you may have life.
“I do not receive honor from men. But I know you, that you do not have the love of God in you. I have come in My Father’s name, and you do not receive Me; if another comes in his own name, him you will receive. How can you believe, who receive honor from one another, and do not seek the honor that comes from the only God? Do not think that I shall accuse you to the Father; there is one who accuses you—Moses, in whom you trust. For if you believed Moses, you would believe Me; for he wrote about Me. But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe My words?”
Words from a Book
The focus on the Book is not a denial of Christ’s priority, either as the first Created:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made.
Or as the first-born of the dead::
For by Him all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or [e]principalities or [f]powers. All things were created through Him and for Him. 17 And He is before all things, and in Him all things consist. 18 And He is the head of the body, the church, who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in all things He may have the preeminence.
For the temporal order of things, nor the material of things, indicate their value in thees of God:
Certainly We crated you, then We formed you, then We said to the angels, ‘Prostrate before Adam.’ So they prostrated, but not Iblis: he was not among those who prostrated.
Said He, ‘What prevented you from prostrating, when I commanded you?’
‘I am better than him, ‘he said. ‘You created me from fire and You created him from clay.’
Similarly, the Blessed Joachim of Fiore taught the Age of the Son succeeded and perfected the Age of the Father, and that the Age of the Holy Spirit would in turn succeed the Age of the Son:
There are three states of the world, corresponding to the three Persons of the Blessed Trinity. In the first age the Father ruled, representing power and inspiring fear, to which the Old Testament dispensation corresponds; then the wisdom hidden through the ages was revealed in the Son, and we have the Catholic Church of the New Testament; a third period will come, the Kingdom of the Holy Spirit, a new dispensation of universal love, which will proceed from the Gospel of Christ, but transcend the letter of it, and in which there will be no need for disciplinary institutions.
“Joachim of Fiore,” Catholic Encyclopedia
Thus, as Christ (in the Arian or Qur’anic perspective) was created first, it is the book he taught, as the mission to the Apostles was given first, but with the Holy Spirit it is not known that “you” — all believers — will speak through the Holy Spirit:
These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions: “Go nowhere among the Gentiles, and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel…
See, I am sending you out like sheep into the midst of wolves; so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. Beware of them, for they will hand you over to councils and flog you in their synagogues; and you will be dragged before governors and kings because of me, as a testimony to them and the Gentiles. When they hand you over, do not worry about how you are to speak or what you are to say; for what you are to say will be given to you at that time; for it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.
The Qur’anic author and Blessed Joachim seem to share a similar view of salvation history, that the sacraments and apostolic succession were instituted, but following the new order are no longer needed. The “Everlasting Gospel” has been proclaimed
And I saw another angel fly in the midst of heaven, having the everlasting gospel to preach unto them that dwell on the earth, and to every nation, and kindred, and tongue, and people.
Now the believer has two tasks: to proclaim his status as an apostle to the world, and have faith that God will give him the right words to say. The children of the Qur’anic author preach this version of the Gospel to the present day:
I wear the black for those who’ve never read Or listened to the words that Jesus said About the road to happiness through love and charity Why you’d think He’s talking straight to you and me
Johnny Cash, “Man in Black“