May 5, 2015

The Fathers of the Church and Islam (2 of 5)

...continued from part one.

1. The Three Hierarchs and Islam

The title of this section seems a bit paradoxical, because the Three Hierarchs never dealt with Islam, nor did they encounter it, because the first two (Basil the Great and Gregory the Theologian) lived in the fourth century, and John Chrysostom reposed in the early fifth century, while Islam appeared in the seventh century, and in the following centuries it expanded to the East and to the West. But one can find indications of a negative relationship between the two.

Muhammad was born, according to the Arabian tradition, in the year 570 A.D., or the end of the sixth century. In the year 610, the early seventh century, he was in a cave near Mecca, and had a vision of an angel that taught him to read. Not knowing how to read, the angel read to him, and Muhammad repeated, saying that the Lord created all things, created man from a blood clot, and that the Lord is most generous, giving him the ability to write and teaching him what he previously did not know. This is considered the cornerstone of the Koran.

The official beginning of the movement of Muhammad began in the year 613 in Mecca, and he worked there until the year 622 with mixed reactions. The final configuration of Islam is the period of Medina between 622-632; he reposed in 632. In general, Muhammad began his life as a shepherd, and eventually became a merchant. After his visions he became a prophet, and from a prophet he became the leader of a theocratic state and the founder of a religion.

The word "Islam" existed before the appearance of Muhammad with a commercial meaning, and it meant an agreement with conditions, an honorable word by which a case can be closed. Muhammad gave a new meaning to the word, which is why Islam means the submission of a person to the call of Allah, and even more it determines the purpose and orientation of his followers. Those who accept this form of a relationship with God are called "Muslim", which indicates a resignation or submission to God.

Since the Three Hierarchs lived in the fourth and early fifth centuries, one wonders what relation these Fathers had with Muhammad and Islam which emerged in history in the seventh century. There is indeed a gap between them of three centuries. And yet there is a relationship, but in a negative form.

Those who deal with Islam know that it was formulated by Muhammad and was established by means of three factors: 1. The Pre-Islamic Arabian religion, which Muhammad encountered in Arabia; 2. The various Jewish influences he encountered in those areas; 3. The Christian influences he encountered in the Middle East. Muhammad made a conglomeration of these three elements, and added his own views and formulated this religion.

Here we are mainly interested in the influences Muhammad received from Christianity. Who were these Christians? It should be noted that Muhammad was not influenced by the views of the Orthodox Church, as expressed by the great Fathers of the Church, among whom were the Three Hierarchs, but he accepted the influences of heretics who fought against the Fathers of the Church. Due to this factor, I see a negative relationship between the Three Hierarchs and Islam.

In Syria and in the area known today as Baghdad there had always been centers for Hellenistic studies. It was here that classical philosophy and later Neoplatonic philosophy flourished, to the point that Antioch in Syria, where St. John Chrysostom lived, grew up and became famous, is regarded as "the Syrian Athens."

From the fifth century various philosophical works began to be translated into Syriac, particularly by Christian heretics. Baghdad became a center for the translation of Greek texts such as that of Plato, Aristotle and the Neoplatonists into Syriac and Arabic, and this continued until the tenth century. In 900 the Neoplatonic School was transferred from Antioch to Baghdad.

What prevailed most was Aristotelian philosophy, which contributed to some Christians developing views that were in opposition to the revelatory theology of Christ, the Apostles and the Apostolic Fathers.

When interpreting this fact, I recall that Athanasius the Great, Basil the Great and St. Gregory the Theologian addressed in their time Arius, Eunomius and Macedonius among other heretics, who incorporated philosophical thought to deny the divinity of Christ, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity. This is how Arianism, Nestorianism, and later Monophysitism and Monothelitism developed.

Arianism began with the views of Paul of Samosata and his disciples, who lived in the eastern regions and were influenced by Aristotelian philosophy. Paul of Samosata lived in Antioch of Syria and did not accept the eternal hypostasis of the Son and Word of God. Lucian was a disciple of his at the end of the third century and beginning of the fourth century and had the same views as his teacher. Arius and Eusebius of Nicomedia listened to the homilies of Lucian, who was spreading the teachings of Paul of Samosata. Thus, Arius began to teach about an unoriginate and eternal God, in Whom are impersonal powers, namely Wisdom and Word. Eunomius learned the art of sophism from the Arian theologian Aetius, who taught that God was simple, undivided and unoriginate in His essence. He would say that due to God's simplicity we cannot know God's essence. Because the essence of God is simple and unoriginate, this means that He cannot be divided and be given to other beings, therefore the Son and Spirit are unequal to Him and created from nothing. Later Nestorius, Severus and Dioscorus could not understand how the two natures were united in Christ, for this is incomprehensible to philosophy.

I summarized all of this, because these views originated out of the Aristotelian philosophy of entelechy, which is the philosophical theory on powers and energies, from which came the debate over the essence and energies of God, and even how that which is according to nature is according to need. These Aristotelian views prompted philosophical theologians to respond to Aristotelian theologians regarding the creation of the cosmos and developed the teaching of the essence and energies of God, and they later spoke of the word of God being the rational energy of the Father. Other philosophical theologians claimed that Christ was a creation of the will of the Father, and therefore He is the first creature of creation and not God.

The Church faced all these heretics in the initial Ecumenical Synods, and the Roman Empire, because it understood that Christianity together with its entire tradition consists of spiritual health and is able to heal humanity, which is why it created peace-loving citizens who expressed love for others and peace, received Orthodox teachings as the religious ideology of the State, and it removed heretics from within the boundaries of the Empire.

Thus these heretics - Arians, Eunomians, Nestorians, Monophysites, Monothelites - were confined to the eastern regions of the Roman Empire, and outside its boundaries, into Arabia and the surrounding regions. This means that corrupt heretical Christian teachings penetrated very early into northern Arabia, where missionary work developed among the Arabs by monks from Syria, Palestine and Mesopotamia, especially the missionary activity among the Arabs before the appearance of Muhammad, which were developed by the Monophysites and Nestorians. Also, the Arian emperor Constantius sent to southern Arabia Theophilus Indus to do missionary work in order to expand the influence of Byzantium in this region.

Therefore, Muhammad met these heretics in the seventh century, who appeared to be Christians, and he accepted some of their Christian heretical views. Thus, Muslims were influenced by Arians, rejecting the doctrine of God as Father, and rejected God as a Trinity in general, and by rejecting the divinity of Christ they maintained the heretical teachings of Arianism and Nestorianism in their Christology. In the Koran, Christ is called a prophet, an apostle, a servant of God, the Messiah, the word of God, and he is considered the second Adam, because He was born in a special supernatural way unlike other mortals. Muhammad respected the miraculous powers of the Messiah, referring to the healing of the sick. In this way originated the two basic principles of Islam: First Principle, God is one and has no son; Second Principle, Christ and Muhammad are prophets, but Muhammad is greater because he came after Christ.

Muslims revere the "Virgin Mariam", and some of the information they get about her come from apocryphal Gospels, and they speak about the Annunciation of the Virgin Mariam.

Also, Muhammad denied the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ, because he was influenced by ancient Christian heresies on these points, such as the Docetists who taught that Christ did not have an actual human body and that the crucifixion "seemed" to take place, namely it was an illusion, which means that Christ avoided the crucifixion. He accepted however the ascension of Christ, since He was lifted up by God and honored by Him as one of His apostles and not dishonored as a villain. Still, in Islamic tradition there is upheld the belief in the future return of Jesus before the Last Judgement for the final victory over the Antichrist.

Moreover, in the Koran there exist allusions about the Holy Spirit, but Muslims do not interpret these as referring to God the Third Person of the Holy Trinity, since they deny the Trinitarian God, but they speak about a spirit of God, a spirit that encourages the Prophets, especially the last two, namely Jesus and Muhammad. Usually by Holy Spirit Muslims understand the Archangel Gabriel who undertook various missions on behalf of God. Of course, Islamic scholars, who have studied the views of the Koran about the Holy Spirit, recognize that this is a difficult problem of interpretation for Islamic theology, but they primarily emphasize that the Holy Spirit means "breath", the power and energy of God, and this shows the influence of the early Christian heresy of Pneumatomachoi.

Muslims do not believe in the Church and in the remission of sins in the Christian sense, but there is continuous talk of God being merciful, generous and compassionate, ready to forgive the sins of men when they return to Him. Also, Muslims do not believe in the ancestral sin, nor its sinful effects on the nature of man. However, they do accept the resurrection of the dead and believe in eternal life.

In general, many Muslims believe that Christianity is a distortion of Islam, while for many Christians Islam is corrupt that did not understand well and properly assimilate with Christianity.

In this sense I speak of an oppositional relationship between the Three Hierarchs and Islam, namely that Muslims were influenced by Arians and other heretics of the early centuries of Christianity, which the Three Hierarchs and the later Fathers opposed.

Translated by John Sanidopoulos