Ben Myers’s delightful and constructive offering yesterday to the discussion of whether Christians and Muslims worship the same God reminded me of Pope Gregory VII’s letter to Anzir, the King of Mauretania. In that letter, penned in 1076 (and so in the period between John of Damascus and Paul of Antioch, Ben’s two subjects), Gregory suggests that Christians and Muslims do indeed worship the same God, ‘although in different ways’. (Implicitly, he is doing what many recent commentators, in their noble efforts to seek intellectual coherence, have failed to do; namely, to indicate, albeit subtly, a distinction between ontological and epistemological claims vis-à-vis God.)
God, the Creator of all, without whom we cannot do or even think anything that is good, has inspired to your heart this act of kindness. He who enlightens all people coming in to the world [Jn 1.9] has enlightened your mind for this purpose. Almighty God, who desires all people to be saved [1 Tim 2.4] and none to perish, is well pleased to approve in us most of all that besides loving God people love others, and do not do to others anything they do not want to be done unto themselves [Mt 7.12]. We and you must show in a special way to the other nations an example of this charity, for we believe and confess one God, although in different ways, and praise and worship him daily as the creator of all ages and the ruler of this world. For the apostle says: ‘He is our peace who has made us but one’ [Eph 2.14]. Many among the Roman nobility, informed by us of this grace granted to you by God, greatly admire and praise your goodness and virtue … God knows that we love you purely for his honor and that we desire your salvation and glory, both in the present and in the future life. And we pray in our hearts and with our lips that God may lead you to the abode of happiness, to the bosom of the holy patriarch Abraham, after long years of life here on earth. (Cited in J. Neuner and J. Dupuis, eds., The Christian Faith in the Documents of the Catholic Church. Bangalore: Theological Publications in India, 1982, 276–77. Slightly modified for gender inclusivity and correction of one of the biblical references.)
The backstory to this letter – and there’s always a backstory! – is that Anzir had sent Gregory a gift which included the freeing of some Christian (?) prisoners. Gregory’s response was this letter sent with a delegation as a sign of friendship, and the remarkable invitation to live together in the spirit of the Sermon on the Mount.
Bruce McCormack too has weighed into the recent conversation with a very helpful piece.
(And for those who may be interested, I touched briefly on the subject a few years ago in this post.)