Does the Church encourage or discourage the reading of other sacred texts?


#1

From the perspective of a universal truth seeker, or maybe someone who is just curious or wants a better understanding of something, does the Church have any prohibitions on reading the sacred texts of other religions? I'm not looking to convert to something else, but I think it could be beneficial, especially when it comes to understanding another perspective.

The basis of my question comes from my curiosity to buy and read a copy of the Koran, and perhaps some of the texts of Judaism and the Bahai faith. Of course, I will not accept any of these as the true Word of God (except perhaps Jewish texts that also appear in the Catholic Bible). I'm just looking to broaden my world perspective, if you will. Is that inherently against the Church, or acceptable so long as I keep the integrity of my faith in Christ intact?


#2

That is a good question and I look forward to any documented answer that may come. I do not know of one. I do know that priestly formation begins with a foundation of philosophy, so there it is not in the mind of the Church to be closed of mind.


#3

Provided that you are first of all well catechized in your own faith, and strong in your own faith, the Church would not discourage you from reading the scriptures of other religions - particularly if you are motivated to uncover the “seeds of Truth” which the Holy Spirit has seen fit in His Divine Providence to implant in the said other faith/faiths.

If you desire official documents, I would suggest the Vatican II Decree Nostra Aetate, various writings and speeches of Blessed John Paul II and the Vatican document of the Pontifical Council for interreligious dialogue Dialogue and Proclamation (1991) (vatican.va/roman_curia/pontifical_councils/interelg/documents/rc_pc_interelg_doc_19051991_dialogue-and-proclamatio_en.html) and the document by then Cardinal Ratzinger and the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith Dominus Iesus (2000). The last of these I would discourage you from reading (it is rather long and complex), however I excerpted the relevant part from it relating to holy texts of other faiths below for you to read.

From the 1991 document we recognise positive, divinely inspired elements in other religions and it explained that we must first have a throrough understanding of their teachings if we hope to properly engage with them and/or their followers:

“…A just appraisal of other religious traditions normally presupposes close contact with them. This implies, besides theoretical knowledge, practical experience of interreligious dialogue with the followers of these traditions…These traditions are to be approached with great sensitivity, on account of the spiritual and human values enshrined in them. They command our respect because over the centuries they have borne witness to the efforts to find answers “to those profound mysteries of the human condition” (NA 1) and have given expression to the religious experience and they continue to do so today…Making its own the vision and the terminology of some early Church Fathers, Nostra Aetate speaks of the presence in these traditions of “a ray of that Truth which enlightens all” (NA 2). Ad Gentes recognizes the presence of “seeds of the word”, and points to “the riches which a generous God has distributed among the nations” (AG 11). Again, Lumen Gentium refers to the good which is “found sown” not only “in minds and hearts”, but also “in the rites and customs of peoples” (LG 17)…the Council has openly acknowledged the presence of positive values not only in the religious life of individual believers of other religious traditions, but also in the religious traditions to which they belong. It attributed these values to the active presence of God through his Word, pointing also to the universal action of the Spirit: “Without doubt,” Ad Gentes affirms, “the Holy Spirit was at work in the world before Christ was glorified” (No. 4)…After the Council, the Church’s Magisterium, especially that of Pope John Paul II, has proceeded further in the same direction. First the Pope gives explicit recognition to the operative presence of the Holy Spirit in the life of the members of other religious traditions, as when in Redemptor Hominis he speaks of their “firm belief” as being “an effect of the Spirit of truth operating outside the visible confines of the Mystical Body” (No. 6). In Dominum et Vivificantem, he takes a further step, affirming the universal action of the Holy Spirit in the world before the Christian dispensation, to which it was ordained, and referring to the universal action of the same Spirit today, even outside the visible body of the Church (cf. No. 53)…”

***- Dialogue and Proclamation, PONTIFICAL COUNCIL FOR INTER-RELIGIOUS DIALOGUE, 1991 ***

Furthermore from Dominus Iesus we are told of the fundamental importance of religious scriptures as sources of these “seeds of truth”:

"…God, who desires to call all peoples to himself in Christ and to communicate to them the fullness of his revelation and love, “does not fail to make himself present in many ways, not only to individuals, but also to entire peoples through their spiritual riches, of which their religions are the main and essential expression even when they contain ‘gaps, insufficiencies and errors’.”** Therefore, the sacred books of other religions, which in actual fact direct and nourish the existence of their followers, receive from the mystery of Christ the elements of goodness and grace which they contain **(I, 8).

Theology today, in its reflection on the existence of other religious experiences and on their meaning in God’s salvific plan, is invited to explore if and in what way the historical figures and positive elements of these religions may fall within the divine plan of salvation. In this undertaking, theological research has a vast field of work under the guidance of the Church’s Magisterium. The Second Vatican Council, in fact, has stated that: “The unique mediation of the Redeemer does not exclude, but rather gives rise to a manifold cooperation which is but a participation in this one source” (III, 14)…"

- Dominus Iesus, declaration by Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (approved John Paul II), Cardinal Ratzinger, 2000

You are thus fully entitled to read other religious scriptures with the intention of uncovering “the elements of goodness and grace which they contain” and “receive from the mystery of Christ”.

BTW I think that this thread might be more appropriate in “Non-Catholic religions” forum. This one is solely for the Holy Bible I believe :smiley:


#4

Fantastic post Vouthon, I've found it extremely helpful. I am well versed in my own faith (I've been educated by Catholic institutions from pre-k through college, and read my Bible almost daily) and now seek the enlightened truth of the Holy Spirit contained within the other texts of the Abrahamic faiths. Also my apologies for not posting this in the right forum, I am still new to this site.


#5

You are very welcome brother Timothy and please have no concerns about your posting of this thread here. The mods will probably just move it to “Non-Catholic religions” if they see it fit.

A warm welcome to CAF btw :thumbsup:

I am glad that you found my post helpful.


#6

Glad to see you are getting some good answers here and just wanted to put my :twocents: in.

In these post-Vatican 2 days, the faithful were presumed to be informed enough about the basics of Catholic teaching that they should be able to spot error enough to, if not figure it out for themselves, at least ask an informed and faithful person about. Sadly, that was a flawed presumption as we have seen adult Catholics in our time being led astray be something as sophomoric as "The God Delusion" and as flat-out stupid as "The De Vinci Code". And even that pales in comparison to millions of uniformed Catholics who have been led astray by the errors of fundamentalism, Jehovah's Witnesses, Mormonism, New Age, Iglesia ni Cristo, etc, etc.

The main common denominator in determining if a certain Catholic is endangering their faith by reading material from other religions of worldviews is the maturity of their faith and how informed they are about it. Now, no Catholic likes to think they are ignorant of the faith. In fact, many that think they know the faith well do not. I've heard scores of people who left the faith for something else (or for nothing) say things like, "Hey, I went to 12 years of Catholic school. I was an altar boy, and even went to a seminary for a short time because I thought I might want to be a priest." But when you listen to them discuss the Faith, it becomes quickly apparent that they don't have the slightest clue what the Church teaches. It doesn't help that catechesis since the late 60's has been absolutely atrocious--a whole generation (or two) that was robbed of their patrimony and fed pablum instead.

Even if a person doesn't fall wholeheartedly into error and feels they are "keeping the integrity of their faith in Christ intact", there is also the danger of confusion and syncretism. Even though the Church, echoing st. Paul in this regard, encourages us to look for good and truth in all things (and other religions do contain some good things insofar as these good things more or less reflect the Gospel), much is flat-out incompatible with the Catholic teaching and cannot be believed or practiced alongside true and orthodox Catholic teaching.

The bottom line is this: if you are truly a mature, practicing Catholic who knows your faith well enough to intelligently to defend it and discuss it with others and to be able to spot error when they see it, you have nothing to fear from reading the books of other religions. If you are the type to read something and come up with doubts about the Catholic Faith because you aren't confident that the Catholic Church has have the answer to every challenge thrown at it for the last 2000 years, you probably shouldn't be reading that type of material. It's all about having a strong Catholic filter. The Catholic Church has nothing to fear from error, but there is no defense against stupidity or willful ignorance.

Hope that helps. :)


#7

On Islam particularly you may find this useful (not strictly about their scriptures but about their faith itself):

“…Christians and Muslims, we have many things in common, as believers and as human beings. We live in the same world, marked by many signs of hope, but also by multiple signs of anguish. For us, Abraham is a very model of faith in God, of submission to his will and of confidence in his goodness. We believe in the same God, the one God, the living God, the God who created the world and brings his creatures to their perfection…The Catholic Church regards with respect and recognizes the equality of your religious progress, the richness of your spiritual tradition…On this path, you are assured, of the esteem and the collaboration of your Catholic brothers and sisters whom I represent among you this evening…”

- Blessed Pope John Paul II: Address to young Muslims in Casablanca, 1985

“…He who enlightens all men coming into this world (John 1.9) has enlightened your mind for this purpose. Almighty God, who wishes that all should be saved and none lost, approves nothing in so much as that after loving Him one should love his fellow man, and that one should not do to others, what one does not want done to oneself. This affection we and you owe to each other in a more peculiar way than to people of other races because we worship and confess the same God though in diverse forms and daily praise and adore Him as the creator and ruler of this world. For, in the words of the Apostle, ‘He is our peace who hath made both one.’ This good action was inspired in your heart by God…This grace granted to you by God is admired and praised by many of the Roman nobility who have learned from us of your benevolence and high qualities . . .] For God knows that we love you purely for His honour and that we desire your salvation and glory, both in this life and in the life to come. 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…”

- Pope St. Gregory VII, Letter XXI to Al-Nasir the Muslim Ruler of Bijaya (Algeria), 1076


#8

On the Baha’i Faith, as yet the only official document realeased by any section of the Catholic Church on the Baha’i Faith specifically, has been a leaflet produced by the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales:

Here it is (over two posts):

[An official publication of the Roman Catholic Church of England and Wales:]

Getting to Know People of Other Faiths No. 8

WHAT IS THE BAHA’I FAITH?

Introduction

In the Vatican II ‘Declaration on the relationship of the Church
with Non-Christians’ we find that the Church speaks with warmth
and openness and greets People of Faith as partners in a single
great enterprise. These religions contain much that is good and
holy and provide ways of salvation for millions of people all
over the world. Throughout the documents of Vatican II we find
encouragement to respect, accept and meet as friends, those who
profess faiths different from our own. The Baha’i Faith will be
introduced here in this spirit.

Who are the Baha’is?

The Baha’i founders sprang from Islamic roots, but are seen by
the Baha’is as founding a religion that fulfills all previous
religions. Today Baha’is are people who formerly had different
religious backgrounds. They have been Christians, Jews, Muslims,
Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Zoroastrians or else they had no
religion at all. They give equal homage to all the past
prophets, but believe that religion progressively evolves, and
the Baha’u’llah is God’s spokesman for this age. Although
Baha’is are from different religious, racial, national, economic
and social classes, the Baha’i teachings have given them a higher
loyalty–the loyalty to humanity.

To a Baha’i there is no demarcation between religion and everyday
life. The most important prayer, Baha’is say, is a person’s
daily life. Religion, in other words, is an attitude towards God
reflected in life.

Today there are between 5 and 6 million Baha’is in the world,
extending over more than three hundred and forty countries,
territories and island groups. In England there are 6,000
registered Baha’is (1989) with 180 local Assemblies, resident in
over 400 localities. At least 9 people are needed to form a
local assembly. The Scriptures of the Baha’i Faith consist of
the writings of the founders and are translated into over six
hundred languages. The rapid growth they have experienced puts
them in the category of a world religion, the youngest in the
line of the prophetic tradition.

Origins of the Baha’i Faith

The Forerunner of the Baha’i Faith was a young Persian merchant
known as the Bab (the Gate), who in 1844 proclaimed Himself to be
a Messenger of God and a herald of One greater than Himself–One
who would inaugurate a new era in religion and civilization.
Like earlier Messengers of God, the Bab was opposed and
denounced. After six years of persecution He was publicly
martyred at the age of 30 in Tabriz.

Its founder was Baha’u’llah (the Glory of God), a Persian
nobleman who in 1863 declared Himself to be the One whose coming
the Bab and all the previous Prophets had foretold. Like His
predecessor, He was bitterly opposed and persecuted. During
nearly forty years of exile and imprisonment He committed to
writing the teachings of His revelation, some of them in letters
to the most important kings and leaders of religion, as well and
teaching and training His followers. His fourth and last place
of banishment, reached in 1865, was the prison city of 'Akka
(Acre), Palestine, where He passed away in 1892 at the age of
seventy-four.

Its authorised interpreter and exemplar was 'Abdu’l-Baha (the
servant of the Glory), eldest son of Baha’u’llah, who was
appointed by his father as the Centre of His Covenant and the one
to whom all must turn for instruction and guidance. 'Abdu’l-Baha
was the close companion and constant helper of his father, whose
sufferings he shared. He remained a prisoner until 1908, when
the old regime in Turkey was overthrown and all religious and
political prisoners were liberated. Afterwards he travelled
widely in Egypt, Europe and America, explaining the principles of
the Faith and inspiring and directing the activities of its
followers throughout the world. He passed away in Haifa in 1921,
mourned by people of all faiths. His life was and continues to
be a shining example to all. In his will and testament,
'Abdu’l-Baha appointed his grandson, Shoghi Effendi, to be the
Guardian of the Faith, and the interpreter of its scripture.
Under his guiding hand, the faith spread rapidly. He passed away
in London in 1957. Since 1963, the Faith has been under the
guidance of the Universal House of Justice.

The Baha’i Faith

Proclaims: The Oneness of God, the Oneness of Religion and of
Mankind, and the equality of men and women. It encourages the
elimination of prejudice of all kinds, universal education,
elimination of extremes of wealth and poverty, the protection of
cultural diversity. It also advocates individual search after
truth, the harmony of science and religion, use of an auxiliary
universal language and world government.

(continued…)


#9

The Baha’i House of Worship

A Baha’i house of worship is open to people of all nations,
races, classes and creeds. It is a place of prayer and
meditation for all, a gift from the Baha’is and a demonstration
of their faith in the oneness of God, the oneness of His Prophets
and the oneness of mankind.

There is one major Baha’i House of Worship in each continent.
For local regular gatherings the Baha’is hold meetings in their
homes or in hired halls. The community has neither a priesthood
nor rituals. The Baha’is see their teachings as a ringing call
to action. They see them as offering hope, courage and vision,
in a world beset with universal problems.

Baha’i Administration

Consultation is the keynote of all Baha’i administration.

There is no clergy and no ritual.

The Scripture is in written form, preserved and authentic.
Administrative bodies are called Spiritual Assemblies; they are
local, national, and international. All Assemblies meet in a
spirit of prayer.

These spiritual Assemblies are elected by the people, but their
responsibility is trust from God to whom alone they are
answerable.

There is no seeking for votes, no candidates, no platform
promises, no parties.

The Nineteen Day Feast is a community occasion, for the reading
of prayers, discussions of affairs with the Local Spiritual
Assembly, and material refreshment together.

The Universal House of Justice–an elected International body
constituted by Baha’u’llah as the supreme legislative and
governing body of the Faith–carries out its duties at the Baha’i
World Centre in Haifa Israel.

Only members of the Baha’i Faith may contribute to the Baha’i
Fund.

– Committee for Other Faiths –
Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales


#10

[quote="Fidelis, post:6, topic:313565"]
The bottom line is this: if you are truly a mature, practicing Catholic who knows your faith well enough to intelligently to defend it and discuss it with others and to be able to spot error when they see it, you have nothing to fear from reading the books of other religions. If you are the type to read something and come up with doubts about the Catholic Faith because you aren't confident that the Catholic Church has have the answer to every challenge thrown at it for the last 2000 years, you probably shouldn't be reading that type of material. It's all about having a strong Catholic filter. The Catholic Church has nothing to fear from error, but there is no defense against stupidity or willful ignorance.

Hope that helps. :)

[/quote]

This :thumbsup:

Read this:

"...To say that the other religious traditions include elements of grace does not imply that everything in them is the result of grace. For sin has been at work in the world, and so religious traditions, notwithstanding their positive values, reflect the limitations of the human spirit, sometimes inclined to choose evil. An open and positive approach to other religious traditions cannot overlook the contradictions which may exist between them and Christian revelation. It must, where necessary, recognize that there is incompatibility between some fundamental elements of the Christian religion and some aspects of such traditions.

This means that, while entering with an open mind into dialogue with the followers of other religious traditions, Christians may have also to challenge them in a peaceful spirit with regard to the content of their belief. But Christians too must allow themselves to be questioned. Notwithstanding the fullness of God's revelation in Jesus Christ, the way Christians sometimes understand their religion and practise it may be in need of purification..."

**- Dialogue and Proclamation, PONTIFICAL COUNCIL FOR INTER-RELIGIOUS DIALOGUE, 1991 **

This discernment is of crucial importance to a Catholic reading another religion's scriptures or who is involved in interfaith dialogue.


#11

[quote="TimothyIgnatius, post:1, topic:313565"]
From the perspective of a universal truth seeker, or maybe someone who is just curious or wants a better understanding of something, does the Church have any prohibitions on reading the sacred texts of other religions? I'm not looking to convert to something else, but I think it could be beneficial, especially when it comes to understanding another perspective.

The basis of my question comes from my curiosity to buy and read a copy of the Koran, and perhaps some of the texts of Judaism and the Bahai faith. Of course, I will not accept any of these as the true Word of God (except perhaps Jewish texts that also appear in the Catholic Bible). I'm just looking to broaden my world perspective, if you will. Is that inherently against the Church, or acceptable so long as I keep the integrity of my faith in Christ intact?

[/quote]

There are no objectively sacred texts other than the books contained in the Canon of Scripture (the Bible).

Treating any other text as sacred or inspired is forbidden, however there is no prohibition on reading these texts for scholarly understanding.


#12

[quote="runningdude, post:11, topic:313565"]
There are no objectively sacred texts other than the books contained in the Canon of Scripture (the Bible).

Treating any other text as sacred or inspired is forbidden, however there is no prohibition on reading these texts for scholarly understanding.

[/quote]

*Dominus Iesus *refers to them as the "sacred books of other religions". And that's an official document of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith written by Cardinal Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict XVI) and ratified/approved/signed by Blessed Pope John Paul II.

They are called "sacred" because they are sacred to these people and the basis of their values, some of which might be in accord with Christian values. Dominus Iesus also teaches that whatever is good in these religious texts/religions is "received from the mystery of Christ".


#13

Such texts from non-Christian texts are subjectively sacred, because as you said, it is based on the value given to them. I carefully described the Canon as the only objectively sacred text, because its holiness comes directly from God.

Even in the Canon, we have only flawed or incomplete originals and translations, so there is some subjectivity in the versions we use, varying based on the faithfulness of the copy or translation.


#14

[quote="runningdude, post:13, topic:313565"]
Such texts from non-Christian texts are subjectively sacred, because as you said, it is based on the value given to them. I carefully described the Canon as the only objectively sacred text, because its holiness comes directly from God.

Even in the Canon, we have only flawed or incomplete originals and translations, so there is some subjectivity in the versions we use, varying based on the faithfulness of the copy or translation.

[/quote]

The statements from the official doctrine said that the good things about other religious texts and religions came through the "mystery of Christ," and therefore are from God. The claim of objectivity vs. subjectivity is moot when it comes to matters of faith.


#15

[quote="TimothyIgnatius, post:14, topic:313565"]
The statements from the official doctrine said that the good things about other religious texts and religions came through the "mystery of Christ," and therefore are from God. The claim of objectivity vs. subjectivity is moot when it comes to matters of faith.

[/quote]

And nothing I said contradicts "official doctrine". Scripture, along with the constant teaching Traditions of the Catholic Church, alone, are objectively sacred, because they contain solely divinely revealed truths.

This doesn't discriminate against non-Christian religions. For example, thousands of Christians have written about the faith and morals, people such as Saint Thomas of Aquinas, Justin the Martyr, etc. However, their writings are not sacred! Their writings are works of men, most of which contain many sacred truths, but occasionally contain faulty teachings.

In the same way, non-Christian writers can describe truths, but their writings too are are not sacred. For instance Siddhattha Gotama (the Buddha) wrote about enlightenment, he wrote about many sacred truths; however, his writings as a whole are not sacred.


#16

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