Tag Archives: Apostolic Succession

Qur’an 19: Mary

The nineteenth chapter of the Qur’an, “Mary,” contrasts Mary with the Bishops. The unparalleled access to Christ provided by Mary is contrasted to the Bishops, the successors of the Twelve Apostles. The Qur’anic author urges the God-wary to turn away from the successors to the Apostles, and look to Mary’s example of making Christ manifest.

Readings

Entrance Antiphon:

“Sing to the Lord,
For He has triumphed gloriously!
The horse and its rider
He has thrown into the sea!”
Exodus 15:21-22

A Reading, from the Book of the Prophet Ezekiel

Then he brought me back to the door of the temple; and there was water, flowing from under the threshold of the temple toward the east, for the front of the temple faced east; the water was flowing from under the right side of the temple, south of the altar…

When I returned, there, along the bank of the river, were very many trees on one side and the other. Then he said to me: “This water flows toward the eastern region, goes down into the valley, and enters the sea. When it reaches the sea, its waters are healed. And it shall be that every living thing that moves, wherever the rivers go, will live. There will be a very great multitude of fish, because these waters go there; for they will be healed, and everything will live wherever the river goes. It shall be that fishermen will stand by it from En Gedi to En Eglaim; they will be places for spreading their nets. Their fish will be of the same kinds as the fish of the Great Sea, exceedingly many.
Ezekiel 47:1,7-10

A Psalm, from the Psalms:

They do not know, nor do they understand;
They walk about in darkness;
All the foundations of the earth are unstable.

I said, “You are gods,
And all of you are children of the Most High.
But you shall die like men,
And fall like one of the princes.”

Arise, O God, judge the earth;
For You shall inherit all nations.
Psalms 82:5-8

A Reading, from the Acts of the Apostles:

Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a Sabbath day’s journey. And when they had entered, they went up into the upper room where they were staying: Peter, James, John, and Andrew; Philip and Thomas; Bartholomew and Matthew; James the son of Alphaeus and Simon the Zealot; and Judas the son of James. 14 These all continued with one [d]accord in prayer [e]and supplication, with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with His brothers.
Acts 1:12-14

Hallelujah, Hallelujah

He has put down the mighty from their thrones,
And exalted the lowly.
Luke 1:52

Hallelujah, Hallelujah

A Reading, from The Holy Gospel According to Matthew:

Now in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. And having come in, the angel said to her, “Rejoice, highly favored one, the Lord is with you; blessed are you among women!”

But when she saw him, she was troubled at his saying, and considered what manner of greeting this was. Then the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son, and shall call His name Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Highest; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David. And He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end.”

Then Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I do not know a man?”

And the angel answered and said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you; therefore, also, that Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God. Now indeed, Elizabeth your relative has also conceived a son in her old age; and this is now the sixth month for her who was called barren. For with God nothing will be impossible.”

Then Mary said, “Behold the maidservant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her.
Luke 1:26-38

Communion Antiphon

And the Spirit and the bride say, “Come!” And let him who hears say, “Come!” And let him who thirsts come. Whoever desires, let him take the water of life freely.
Revelations 22:17

A Qur’anic Homily

Moses, Aaron, and Mary

Consider that holy family, the children of Amram. Wee see the way that Jews over the centuries honored Moses and Aaron. But perhaps Miriam — Hebrew for “Mary” — was the greatest sign for us:

For I brought you up from the land of Egypt,
I redeemed you from the house of bondage;
And I sent before you Moses, Aaron, and Miriam.
Micah 6:2-4

Paul spoke of many gifts of the spirit, including prophecy and priesthood. But Mary is greater than any of these gifts. Follow Mary!

Jesus and Mary

God could have granted Jesus an earthly foster father named Moses or Aaron. God didn’t. Think if this was a sign to what is Real — to what it means to really know what is Real:

That is Jesus, son of Mary, a Word of the Real concerning whom they are in doubt.
Qur’an 19:34

Mary is the prototypical submitter-to-God. Mary sister-of-Moses sung of God’s glory when horse and rider were thrown into the sea. And Mary mother-of-Jesus said “Yes!” and did not demand any honor or praise, beyond what was given to her by God. The Qur’anic author elides even Mary’s response — “Behold the maidservant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word” — to emphasize Mary’s lack of pretension or demands on God:

She said, ‘How shall I have a child seeing that no human being has ever touched me, nor have I been unchaste?”

He said, ‘So shall it be. Your Lord says, “It is simple for Me, and so that We may make him a sign for mankind and mercy from us, and it is a matter already decided.”
Qur’an 19:20-21

Mary points to Christ the real in a way beyond how Moses and Aaron could, because she is more perfect than them. The Qur’anic author makes this point by having townspeople (who are accusing Mary of fornication) call her “kinswoman of the Aaronites.” Her namesake Miriam was kinswoman of Aaron. But As Christ’s priesthood is more perfect than Aaron’s, treating Mary as second to Aaron is just absurd.

Then, carrying him, she brought him to her people. They said, ‘O Mary, you have certainly come up with an odd thing! O kinswoman of the Aaronites! Your father was not an evil man, nor was your mother unchaste.’
Qur’an 19:27-28

Here’s another way to think of Mary’s priesthood. Consider that which makes Christ’s presence real — the Sacrament. While the Eucharist is the source & summit of the Catholic faith, Christ’s presence was even more complete and more manifest when Mary gave birth. Likewise, the true presence requires words from a priest’s mouth:

Take this, all of you, and eat of it:
for this is my body which will be given up for you.
Take this, all of you, and drink from it:
for this is the chalice of my blood,
the blood of the new and eternal covenant.
which will be poured out for you and for many
for the forgiveness of sins.
Do this in memory of me.

But when Mary made Christ manifest, he spoke for himself. The Qur’anic author emphasizes the closely of Mary to Christ, by noting that a purpose of the Incarnation was itself kindness to Mary:

Then she pointed to him.

They said, “How can we speak to One who is yet a baby in the cradle?

He Said, “I am indeed a servant of God.

He has
given me the Book and
made me a Prophet. He has made me Blessed, wherever I may be,

and He has enjoined me to the

The Prayer, and
The Alms-Giving (as long as I live), and To be good to my Mother.

And He has not made me self-willed and wretched.

Peace to me the day
I was born,
the day I die, and the day I am raised alive.
Qur’an 19:29-33

The Apostles and Mary

Now consider two groups: the bishops — the successors to the Apostles — and Mary. Which is a surer hope. The ones with worldly power and riches?

When Our clear signs are recited to them, the faithless say to the faithful, ‘Which of the two groups is superior in station and better with respect to company?’ How many a generation We have destroyed before them who were superior in furnishings and appearance!
Qur’an 19:73-74

The Bishops — especially in the middle east, and for three centuries before the Qur’anic author — insisted they were to be treated as “earthly gods.” Is this how we would expect Mary to demand to be treated? Does it give us a clue who is the surer hope?

The bishop, he is the minister of the word, the keeper of knowledge, the mediator between God trod you in the several parts of your divine worship. He is the teacher of piety; and, next after God, he is your father, who has begotten you again to the adoption of sons by water and the Spirit. He is your ruler and governor; he is your king and potentate; he is, next after God, your earthly god, who has a right to be honored by you.

For concerning him, arid such as he, it is that God pronounces,

“I have said, Ye are gods; and ye are all children of the Most High.”

And,

“Ye shall not speak evil of the gods.”

For let the bishop preside over you as one honored with the authority of God, which he is to exercise over the clergy, and by which he is to govern all the people. But let the deacon minister to him, as Christ does to His Father; and let him serve him blamelessly in all things, as Christ does nothing of Himself, but does always those things that please His Father. Let also the deaconess be honored by you in the place of the Holy Ghost, and not do or say anything without the deacon; as neither does the Comforter say or do anything of Himself, but gives glory to Christ by waiting for His pleasure.
The Constitution of the Holy Apostles, c. 325, II.IV.XXVI

The Qur’anic author has a number of criticisms of the Catholic Church. He seems to have been a heretic — at the time of the writing, his “Arian” beliefs that Christ was created at the beginning of all ages (instead of begotten before all ages) was in its last breaths, and Arian sacraments mediated by the successors of the apostles were nearly impossible to obtain. But were the remaining successors — who called themselves gods — the appropriate thing for the community take?

They have taken gods besides God so that they may be a might to them. No Indeed! Soon they will disown their worship, and they will be their opponents. Have you not regarded that We unleash the devils upon the faithless to urge them vigorously?
Qur’an 19:81-83

But Mary’s goal was not might among men, but quietly allowing her body to do the work of God. Thus did God send the Holy Spirit to Mary, and thus was the perfect child, Jesus, born:

And mention in the book Mary, when she withdrew from her family to an easterly place. Thus did she seclude herself from them, whereupon We sent to her Our Spirit and he became incarnate for her as a perfect human. Qur’an 19:17

Mary is a perfect imitation to and a perfect sign to Jesus, suffering in her birth pains as Christ would suffer in her passion, but while Christ was guided directly by God, it is Christ who even in the womb announces the gospel to His mother (in words that echo the Prophet Ezekiel, who notes that springs will flow from the Temple, in keeping with the traditional view that sees Mary as the perfect Temple).

Thus she conceived him, then withdrew with him to a distance place. The birth pangs brought her to the trunk of a date palm. She said, “I wish I had died before this and become a forgotten thing, beyond recall.”

Thereupon he called her from below: “Do not grieve! Your Lord has made a spring to flow at your feet. Shake the trunk of a palm tree, freshly picked dates will drop upon you. Eat, drink, and be comforted. Then if you see any human, say, “I have indeed vowed a fast to the All-beneficent, so I will not speak to any human today.”
Qur’an 19:22-26

The Qur’an’s view of Mary is very close Taylor Marshall‘s, who emphasizes Mary’s special and greater relationship, not just with Christ but with the Holy Spirit as well:

While the Holy Apostles were generally ignorant of the Holy Ghost, the Immaculate Mary knew Him intimately. Mary had already experienced the descent of the Holy Ghost at her Immaculate Conception since at that moment she was not merely preserved from all sin, but also filled with grace and the Holy Spirit. She was perfectly possessed by the Holy Ghost from the first moment of her existence. This is why Saint Francis of Assisi and other great saints have called Mary “Spouse of the Holy Spirit.” The analogy of matrimony is the strongest and best way to signify a union of two persons in their mission.
The Spirit and the Bride,” by Taylor Marshall

It was obvious in the day of the Qur’anic author, and in our own day, that legitimate apostolic succession is not a guarantee of a shared communion. Today Catholic and Orthodox bishops recognize each others succession, but deny communion to each other. Even dire heresies — like the Arian divide, the Nestorian divide, and so on — had bishops on each side. Following the successors of the twelve men who made up the Apostles have not given us a united community.

[Jesus said,’ “God is indeed my Lord and your Lord. So worship Him. That is a straight path.

But the factions differed among themselves. So woe to the faithless at the scene of a tremendous day. How will they will hear and how well they will see on the day when they come to Us! But today the wrongdoers are in plain error.
Qur’an 19:37-38

Even worth, it has often not given us a gracious community. [Many bishops in the late classical world gave the Sacrament of Reconciliation only once or twice a lifetime. But does anyone believe that Christ would not forgive a repentant sinner the second time? Or that His mother would spurn such a contrite heart?

But they were succeeded by an evil posterity who neglected the prayer and followed appetites. So they will soon encounter perversity, barring those who

repent, believe, and act righteously.

Such will enter paradise and they will not be wronged in the least.
Qur’an 19:59-60

What good is the Sign of Peace from a bishop who will not cooperate with Christ to forgive sins? To be with Mary, to follow the signs to Jesus, means knowing a Sign of Peace that is without vanity, without pretension, but full of grace.

Therein they will not hear vain talk, but only “Peace!” Therein they will have their provision morning and evening. This is the paradise that We will give as inheritance to those of Our servants who are Godwary.
Qur’an 19:62-63

In Conclusion

Arian heretics considered themselves catholic, and professed the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church. They believed that Christ was created at the beginning of all ages, while the rest of the church taught that Christ was begotten before all ages. The successful obliteration of he Arian heresy among Bishops made it impossible for remaining Arian communities to receive the sacraments from an Arian bishop. At the same time, many Catholic bishops in the near east considered themselves “gods” and refused granting the Sacrament of Confession more than once or twice per lifetime — views both well documented and now considered bizarre. The Qur’anic author, caring for an Arian community in this context, urged the faithful to abandon the idea of the “church” and apostolic succession. He urged those who feared God to turn from the bishops and instead seek Mary as a sure way to God.

Qur’an 7: The Elevations

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.'”
Luke 16:22-26

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.”
Ezekiel 9:3-6

The Qur’anic author combines both references, as he combined the stories of Mary and Miriam, or the Catholic ideas of Sonship and Spouseship:

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.
Qur’an 7:47-49

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.
Qur’an 7:136-137

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?’
Qur’an 7:138-140

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.”
Exodus 16:1-3

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!’
Qur’an 7:42-43

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.
Qur’an 7:52-54

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.
Qur’an 7:157

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.
Qur’an 7:157-158

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!
Qur’an 7:2-3

The word of God in Christ is seen by the Qur’anic author as part of the Book, along with other revelations:

For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
Galatians 5:14

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.
Deuteronomy 30:9-14

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.
Exodus 3:16-21

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?”
John 5:37-47

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.
John 1:1-3

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.
Colossians 1:16-18

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.’
Qur’an 7:11-12

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.
Matthew 10:5-6,16-20

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.
Revelations 14:6

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

Rationality and Historical Validity of Faiths

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”
John 1:1

The word for Word, of course, is ‘Logos,’ which means ‘Word,’ ‘Account,’ ‘Fraction,’ or ‘Reason.’

Its somewhat self-referential, but a comparison of religions from the Christian perspective is really a comparison of Reasons, and determining which one is most rational. Of course, religion predates the tool of science, so I’m not saying that religion is scientific, but in the Christian tradition religion is rational.

Therefore, a first cut through the world’s religions removes irrational religions, such as mysticism or animism, as simply not compatible with what a religion should be. These may be avenues or reflections of something that is true in a religion, but they cannot be rational religions in themselves.

This reduces the number of possible religions rather sharply, and we are basically left with two rational traditions

  • Abrahamic
  • Dharmic

I think from an evolution of thought perspective these two systems seem to be the most ‘fit.’ For instance, take this striking visualization

With which only a few present a historical account or reason why it is valid instead of others. Many faiths appear to faith, of course, but those that provide a system of evidence of arguing that their historical claims are actually true.
As far as I’ve read, the faiths that present an argument from historical validity may be classified as

  • Catholic Christianity
  • Orthodox Christianity
  • Rabbinical Judaism
  • Islam (most varieties)
  • Sri Lankan Buddhism
  • Chinese Buddhism

Faiths I am specifically and intentionally excluding include:

  • Protestant Christianity: A coherent adherence to Sola Scriptura removes these faiths from the need for historical validty, and a rejection of Sola Scriptura is incoherent
  • Zen Buddhism: Tibetan Buddhism is a form of spirit worship
  • Japanese Shinto/Buddhism: ditto, but with nature worship too
  • Mormonism/Scientology: Science-fiction faiths which are empirically testable, and thus not faiths, but rather (astoundingly improbable) scientific theories

So back to the list

Sri Lankan Buddhism is very well attested, but I am not sure that it is not simply a form of atheism.

In areas where Chinese Buddhism contradicts Sri Lankan Buddhism, (a) Sri Lankan Buddhism’s version is attested hundreds of years earlier, and just as suspiciously, (b) Chinese Buddhism is remarkably similar to Nestorian Christianity (even has a Trinity!), which was introduced to China at about the time at Chinese Buddhism formed

So of the four that remain, all incorporate by reference a trail of documents and books stretching back to Abraham in the desert, all have rather details accounted of the Roman Empire, and all hinge on specific teachings given by Jesus which we can only access second- or third- hand.

Of these four, the Islamic tradition is the worst attested. The Koran contains numerous innovations that contradict the both Catholic/Orthodox Christianity and Judaism, some of which are simply unattested (Did Abraham offer up Isaac or Ishmael) and some of which are very improbable (the Koran’s claim that Jews worship Ezra as the Son of God):

“And the Jews say: Ezra is the son of Allah, and the Christians say: The Messiah is the son of Allah. That is their saying with their mouths. They imitate the saying of those who disbelieved of old. Allah (Himself) fighteth against them. How perverse are they!
—Qur’an, Sura At-Tawba”

This is a striking passage. I cannot think of a similar one in another tradition, in which a major tenant of a rival religion is stated incorrectly. It would be akin to Luther arguing that Catholics believe that Mary is the Pope — it’s not just a caricature of the belief, it doesn’t even make sense as a slander.

Between Catholic/Orthodox Christianity and Rabbinical Judaism, the question is more difficult, as both are in a real sense bolted on to the now vanished faith of Temple Judaism. They may both be considered to incorporate the Old Testament, to have a follow-on system of laws or interpretations (the New Testament for the Catholics and Orthodox, the Oral Torah for Rabbinical Jews), and to emphasize the role of context in understanding these.

Between Catholic/Orthodox Christianity and Rabbinical Judaism, I would argue that the Catholic/Orthodox tradition is older (seemingly formed by AD 70 by Romanized Jews in Palestine) than the Rabbincal tradition (seemingly dating from AD 200 by Romanized Jews throughout the Empire). But ultimately this time difference is not very great in the scale of things, so here my argument becomes more tenuous.

The question between the Catholic and Orthodox traditions is more narrow yet, as it relies on a long-running debate over Church governance and the proper role of Church-State relations. The debate is almost identical to the debate between Trotsky and Stalin — is it best to have a world-wide revolutionary movement that opportunistically seeks to subvert States to its own ends (the Catholic/Trotskyite strategy) or it is best to build ‘in one country,’ with the Church/Party as the ‘heart’ of the State (the Orthodox/Stalinist strategy). Basically, the entire debate comes down to interpreting Paul’s words on government. I really don’t like the idea of National Churches, but perhaps that is my own cultural and intellectual bias.

Either way, that’s how I arrive at Catholicism — a focus on rationality, historic validity, and interpretation of a couple stray verses!