Q: Do Jews, Christians
and Muslims pray to the same God? In one sense, it seems
that they do. But in another sense, only Christians speak
of God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
I am uncomfortable with prayer services
attended by members of these three religions. It seems that
Christians are saying something that is not true and are
denying the uniqueness and importance of Jesus Christ.
A: Because Jews, Christians
and Muslims believe that there is only one God, revealed
first to Abraham, they are indeed praying to the same God—even
though only Christians refer to God as Father, Son and Holy
Yes, Jesus Christ is the complete revelation
of God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Our Catholic faith,
however, does not say that only baptized Catholics can be
The Sacrament of Baptism is still important.
Everyone who has been or will be saved is saved because
of Jesus’ suffering, death and resurrection—even if that
person does not have an explicit faith in Jesus. His command
to preach the Good News is still an obligation for Christians.
In connection with the Great Jubilee of the
Year 2000, Pope John Paul II wanted, but was unable, to
visit Abraham’s birthplace in modern-day Iraq. The pope
did visit Mt. Sinai (February 2000) and Jerusalem (March
2000). He has frequently spoken about Abraham as the common
ancestor of Jews, Christians and Muslims.
In the Vatican’s Paul VI Audience Hall on
January 17, 2004, Gilbert Levine conducted the Pittsburgh
Symphony Orchestra, with choruses from the United States,
Great Britain, Turkey and Poland, in the world premiere
of Abraham, a motet composed for this occasion by
John Harbison, and in Gustav Mahler’s Second Symphony (Resurrection
Pope John Paul II sat between Elio Toaff, the
retired chief rabbi of Rome, and Abdulawahab Hussein Gomaa,
the imam of Rome.
On this occasion, the pope said: “The history
of relations among Jews, Christians and Muslims is marked
by lights and shadows and, unfortunately, it has known painful
moments. Today one feels a pressing need for a sincere reconciliation
among believers in the one God.”
Not all Jews, Christians and Muslims share those
sentiments, but the pope feels increasingly called to challenge
any hatred based on religion.
A Harris poll of 2,306 U.S. adults last September
found that 53 percent agreed that “Jews, Christians and
Muslims all worship the same God.” Saying “no” were 32 percent,
and 15 percent said they were unsure.
The highest percentage saying “yes” were Jews
(64), followed by Catholics (58) and Protestants (51).
Q: Your article “Iconographer
Marek Czarnecki” (December 2003) quotes him as saying
that around the seventh century Eastern Christianity’s icons
were almost obliterated by “iconoclasts.” Were these people
Christians, Jews or Muslims?
A: Those “iconoclasts” (Greek
for “smashers of images”) were Christians who claimed that
using icons amounts to worshiping idols. Making images of
any living thing is forbidden in the Torah (Exodus 20:4,
Deuteronomy 5:8), a prohibition that the first Jewish Christians
continued to follow. Defenders of icons said that Jesus’
Incarnation makes it legitimate to draw portraits of him
and other holy men and women.
The Second Ecumenical Council of Nicea (787)
affirmed this interpretation and added that Christ’s followers
worship God but they venerate saints. The controversy flared
up again in the following century, when some Christians
claimed that icons were tolerated for private devotion but
forbidden in public worship. Again the Church rejected that
argument. Monks vigorously defended using icons as a way
of linking this life and the next one.
Islam prohibits the use of images of God, angels
or people as part of a mosque’s artwork because this religion
began among people who formerly worshiped idols. When Muslim
soldiers in the seventh and eighth centuries captured monasteries
and churches in the Middle East, therefore, they often defaced
mosaic representations of Jesus and the saints.
You can still see the evidence of defaced mosaics
at the church in Kursi (east side of the Sea of Galilee).
The Muslim soldiers even obliterated representations of
ducks and other animals.
When the Turks captured Constantinople in 1453,
they whitewashed much of the artwork in Hagia Sophia, its
main church. In 1923, that building, which had served as
a mosque for almost 500 years, was converted into a museum—with
all that whitewash removed.
Q: What does this term mean and
what is the controversy surrounding it? What is the difference
between the Roman Catholic Church’s belief and the Orthodox
Church’s belief about the Holy Spirit’s relationship to
God the Father and God the Son?
A: The term filioque
is Latin for “and from the Son.” We use it on Sundays when
we pray, “We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver
of life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son.”
The Creed we pray at Sunday Mass is called the Nicene-Constantinopolitan
Creed because it was drawn up by the Council of Nicea (325
A.D.) and expanded by the Council of Constantinople (381).
The term filioque is not part of that text but was
first added to the Creed by the Fourth Synod of Braga (Spain,
675), later encouraged by Charlemagne and in 1013 ordered
by St. Henry II, who was the Holy Roman Emperor from 995
The Eastern Church never agreed to this unilateral
change to a creed formulated by the whole Church in the
There is a certain logic to the filioque
terminology because it reinforces a sense of three, co-equal,
divine persons. On the other hand, I was present in St.
Peter’s Basilica in 1995 when the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew
sat next to Pope John Paul II during the Liturgy of the
Word at a Mass for the feast of Sts. Peter and Paul (June
29). The pope and patriarch prayed the Nicene-Constantinopolitan
Creed in its original text—without the filioque.
This term remains a point of discussion between members
of the Orthodox and Catholic Churches.
Q: As a 51-year-old returning
Catholic, I cherish my newfound faith and delight in prayer,
worship and discussions of faith. I am going back to school
to prepare to serve in some capacity as a pastoral minister.
My question is: How do cavemen fit into our belief of Adam
and Eve and their lineage?
A: The author of the Adam
and Eve story did not know how long people had existed on
this earth and probably did not know about dinosaurs and
The biblical writer who used the terms Adam
and Eve, however, did know that our present
human condition is not exactly what God intended from the
beginning of time. Thus, the Yahwist writer presents the
story about Adam and Eve’s disobedience, their expulsion
from the Garden of Eden and the very human tendency to elbow
others out of the way in taking credit for something but
likewise pushing others forward if blame is being handed
The questions you ask are important, but please
understand that the biblical writer has a different story—an
inspired story—to tell. Science can teach you more accurately
about cavemen and cavewomen, but such information cannot
nullify what the Bible teaches.
Q: Several students in the
CCD class that my wife and I teach have noticed that some
crucifixes show Christ as being nailed through the wrists
while others show him as nailed through the palms. Our students
want to know which way is accurate!
A: It is physically impossible for an adult’s body weight to be
supported by a nail through the palm. The weight would cause the nail to tear
through the rest of the hand. Jesus’ executioners would at least have needed
ropes around the wrist—and perhaps near the elbows—if they nailed Jesus to the
cross through his palms.
There is a wrist bone that could provide some support. Many people
have presumed that the Gospels (especially John 20:27, with Jesus’ invitation
to the Apostle Thomas to feel the nail marks) state that Jesus was nailed through
the palms. The Gospels are simply not specific on this point and we have to
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