“We believe in one God, the Father, the Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, of all that is, seen and unseen.”Nicene Creed
“Once again it is evident that the unity of God is not to be understood as residing in some generic nature shared by three specific Persons. The oneness of God is the specificity of the Father; it is He who is the “one God” in whom Christians believe. As Saint Gregory the Theologian puts it, “The union is the Father, from whom and to whom the order of the Persons runs its course”.(James Cutsinger)
When other religions speak of “God” (to the extent that they speak of Him properly), the Christian in me used to picture a kind of “Pre-Trinitarian Mystery”. The one God they’re talking about, to me at that time, is implicitly the Father, Son, and Spirit all muddled together under some “generic” unity. Now, I see that I was wrong. I see now that when these religions do say “God”, they usually mean whom Christians would call the Father, and the Father alone. “There is no god but God” the Muslims say, “Hear O Israel, our God is One” says the Jews, even the Jewish Christian Paul says in his modification of this in 1 Corinthians 8:6 – “yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom all things came and for whom we live; and there is but one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things came and through whom we live”.
It is quite clear, as James Cutsinger claimed, that “God” applies most properly to the Father. For the Christian, who believes the Son is “God of God” and calls the Holy Spirit “Lord and Giver of Life”, this means that we call the Second and Third persons “God” based on the priority of the Father and not to some divinity apart from the persons. The Father as God gifts himself to the Son, hence the Son is God. This Gift that unites both is the Spirit, who is also God by virtue of the Father’s spiration, agreeing with the Athanasian Creed. This is seen in that scripture I quoted earlier where the Father is the one God from whom we came, while Christ is the one Lord through whom we came.
The Christian would then (rightly) voice a concern. If these religions have access to the Father as they claim, doesn’t that undermine Christ’s claim that “No one goes to the Father except through me”? The question betrays an anxiety about our religion and the “problem” of so many seemingly exclusive religions. The answer I have taken, an answer which I have held implicitly, but have not been able to express in words until recently, is “No”. In fact, because of our creeds, our orthodox Christology, and trinitarian understanding, we can say that their access to the Father radically confirms Christ’s words.
“We, then, following the holy fathers, all with one consent teach men to confess one and the same Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, the same perfect in Godhead and also perfect in manhood; truly God and truly man, of a rational soul and body; coessential with the Father according to the Godhead, and consubstantial with us according to the manhood; in all things like unto us, without sin…”Creed of Chalcedon
“In his great treatise On the Making of Humanity, Gregory reads Genesis 1:26-7-the first account of the creation of the race, where humanity is described as being made “in God’s image” -as referring not to the making of Adam as such, but to the conception within the eternal divine counsels of this full community of all of humanity: the whole of the race, comprehended by God’s “foresight” as “in a single body,” which only in its totality truly reflects the divine likeness and the divine beauty”David Bentley Hart
“Christ, ‘Light of the world; is the universal Intellect, as the Word is the ‘Wisdom of the Father.’ Christ is the Intellect of microcosms as well as that of the macrocosm. He is then the Intellect in us as well as the Intellect in the Universe and a fortiori in God; in this sense, it can be said that there is no truth nor wisdom that does not come from Christ, and this is evidently independent of all consideration of time and place. Just as ‘the Light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not; so too the Intellect shines in the darkness of passions and illusions.”Frithjof Schuon
The point of the statements above is to show one running theme: Christ, even in his particularity as Jesus of Nazareth, is (like Paul said) the one in whom we move and live and have our being, and the source of all authentic religious revelation.
He, as the being of all men and the fulfilment of our nature, is the source of all revelation, even if He isn’t specifically mentioned as the source. The revelation he brings is the nature of the Father, the One God with whom He is consubstantial. This revelation spans from the entire classical theist tradition that testifies unto the “Uncaused Cause” (Who we call “Father”), to the revelation to Muhammad that “There is no god but God”, to which a Christian, knowing his own Tradition, can only say “Amen” to, for it is True. Here lies the answer to the question of whether other religions “esoterically” (to use Schuon’s words) contradict Christ, and the answer is No. As religions take the form appropriate to their point in history and culture, therefore specific doctrines don’t necessarily match (exoterically, as Schuon puts it). A Muslim doesn’t need to be a Christian, and vice versa. There is no need for syncretism, even if there’s need for engagement and dialogue. A useful implication of this is that it helps realize what may be regarded as corrupted beliefs, such as those that deny God’s unity.
However, as their “Telos” (end) is God, what you find on close inspection is that the God they point to is the same God, and from this you can then be open to the belief in “Salvation” (not all religions use those words to describe it) through Christ that doesn’t necessarily depend on a particular induction to the “historical” Church. To clarify, I agree that there is no salvation outside “the Church”, but “the Church” isn’t exhausted by its explicit historical manifestation, but is (as we see in several places, especially the book of Revelation) the eternal reality of the “pleroma” of humanity (and therefore creation itself) that is the body of Christ, of which its historical manifestation is but a small, yet significant fruit; and (here comes my opinion) whose manifestation in other faith communities (or “bodies”, if you get my drift) may (rightly) be called under a different name with different understandings.
However, I wouldn’t force the issue, it is your choice what to believe. God is good, His mercies endureth forever, and He has sent his Son whom is “the true light that lighteth every man that cometh into the world”, even the Buddhist.
- Both images are from the Book of Revelation graphic novel by Matt Dorff, Chris Koelle, Mark Arey, and Philemon D. Sevastiades. I highly recommend it to get a taste of the flaming reality the book of the apocalypse portrays. https://www.amazon.com/Book-Revelation-Paperback-Matt-Dorff/dp/0310421403
- Anglicans Online | The Nicene Creed. (n.d.). Retrieved April 22, 2020, from http://anglicansonline.org/basics/nicene.html
- Athanasian Creed. (n.d.). Retrieved April 22, 2020, from http://www.prca.org/about/official-standards/creeds/ecumenical/athanasian
- Creed of Chalcedon. (n.d.). Retrieved April 22, 2020, from http://www.prca.org/about/official-standards/creeds/ecumenical/chalcedon
- Cutsinger, J. S. (2010). Disagreeing to agree: A Christian response to “A common word.” Muslim and Christian Understanding: Theory and Application of “A Common Word,” 2(March), 111–130. https://doi.org/10.1057/9780230114401
- Hart, D. B. (2019). That All Shall Be Saved. In That All Shall Be Saved. https://doi.org/10.2307/j.ctvnwbzd4
- Schuon, F., & Nasr, S. H. (2005). The essential Frithjof Schuon. In The library of perennial philosophy. http://www.loc.gov/catdir/toc/ecip0513/2005014071.html