ATTITUDE TO OTHER RELIGIONS
Attitude towards Jews
Soon after the
conversion of Constantine and the making of Christianity the official state
religion of Roman empire, the persecuted all of a sudden turned into
persecuters following same manner as the heathens. Surprisingly Ambrose
himself seem to have supported directly or indirectly such actions.
In his treatise on
Abraham, Ambrose warns against intermarriage with pagans, Jews, or heretics.
But one such glaring
even occured on August 1, 388, C.E., when an angry mob of Christians in the
town of Callinicum, in the Roman province of Osrhoene, incited by their
bishop burned a synagogue to the ground.
corresponds to the present day city of Al-Raqqah, which is the de facto
capital of the Islamic State in Syria.
authorities of the province ordered the rioters of Callinicum and their
bishop who incited the riot to compensate the Jews – either by rebuilding
the synagogue for them or by paying them so they could undertake the
reconstruction themselves. This judgement was confirmed by Theodosius,the
emperor himself. On hearing this Bishop Ambrose , addressed a letter to
the emperor, in which he claimed that it was nothing less than the “glory of
God” that was at stake
"There is, then, no
adequate cause for such a commotion, that the people should be so severely
punished for the burning of a building, and much less since it is the
burning of a synagogue, a home of unbelief, a house of impiety, a receptacle
of folly, which God Himself has condemned. For thus we read, where the Lord
our God speaks by the mouth of the prophet Jeremiah: 'And I will do to this
house, which is called by My Name, wherein ye trust, and to the place which
I gave to you and to your fathers, as I have done to Shiloh, and I will cast
you forth from My sight, as I cast forth your brethren, the whole seed of
Ephraim. And do not thou pray for that people, and do not thou ask mercy for
them, and do not come near Me on their behalf, for I will not hear thee. Or
seest thou not what they do in the cities of Judah?' God forbids
intercession to be made for those."
He supported his
advise on the basis that it was the jews who had destroyed the Christian
basilicas in Damascus, Gaza, Ashkelon and Alexandria during the time of
Julian the Apostate – (although there is no evidence that this was the
case). “Which, then, is of greater importance, the show of discipline or
the cause of religion?”
Theodosius did not
respond to Ambrose upon which Ambrose took up his chiding in the open pulpit
and went to the extent of refusing the communion until he has rectified the
order. Ambrose couched his entire appeal in a cloak of love and concern for
Theodosius, so that, after the service, when the emperor reproached the
priest, saying, "Thou hast preached against me!" Ambrose responded by
declaring, "Not against thee, but in thy behalf!" The appeal worked, and the
emperor canceled the order he had imposed on the clergy and the churchgoers
of Callinicum to rebuild the synagogue.
However in 393,
Theodosius, by now the emperor of a united empire, issued an instruction
noting that the Jews had a right to congregate in their houses of prayer,
and declaring that “those who presume to commit illegal deeds under the name
of the Christian religion and attempt to destroy and despoil synagogues”
will be severely punished.
In his exposition of
Psalm 1, Ambrose says: "Virtues without faith are leaves, flourishing in
appearance, but unproductive. How many pagans have mercy and sobriety but no
fruit, because they do not attain their purpose! The leaves speedily fall at
the wind's breath. Some Jews exhibit purity of life and much diligence and
love of study, but bear no fruit and live like leaves."
Attitude towards pagans
One of the many
remnants till recent times of heathen worship had been the Altar of Victory
in the Senate-house at Rome, which was removed under Gratian. The prefect of
Rome, Symmachus, who was Ambrose's first cousin from his mother's side being
a heathen appealed to Valentinan II. that it might be restored, and Ambrose
successfully opposed this appeal in two Epistles (17, 18) addressed to the
young Emperor. Yet again, when Theodosius assumed the imperial power [a.d.
387], a renewed attempt was made and once more frustrated. Later on,
Eugenius the usurper judged it politic to take the heathen's side, the
Altar of Victory was once more set up, and the temples stood open as in the
days of old. But this triumph lasted only for a brief period. When
Theodosius defeated the usurper at Aquileia, in the spring of 394 it spelled
the death of all Pagan religions of Rome, no more to rise as a public force.
.(Letters 17, 18).
Under his influence,
emperors Gratian, Valentinian II and Theodosius I carried on
persecution of Paganism; Theodosius
issued the 391 "Theodosian decrees," which with increasing intensity
outlawed Pagan practices The Altar of Victory was removed by Gratian.
Ambrose prevailed upon Gratian, Valentinian and Theodosius to reject
requests to restore the Altar.
It may be good to
have a look at the attitude of Christians towards Pagan religions.
"In the period of 313
to 391, both paganism and Christianity were legal religions, with their
respective adherents vying for power in the Roman Empire. This period of
transition is also known as the
In 380, Theodosius I made Nicene Christianity the state church of the Roman
Empire. Paganism was tolerated for another 12 years, until 392, when
Theodosius passed legislation prohibiting all pagan worship.Pagan religions
from this point were increasingly persecuted, a process which lasted
throughout the 5th century. The closing of the Neoplatonic Academy by decree
of Justinian I in 529 marks a conventional end point of both classical
paganism and Late Antiquity, after which most of its scholars fled to more
tolerant Sassanid Persia.
Lay Christians took
advantage of these new anti-pagan laws by destroying and plundering the
temples. Theologians and prominent ecclesiastics soon followed. One such
example is St. Ambrose, Bishop of Milan. When Gratian became Roman emperor
in 375, Ambrose, who was one of his closest educators, persuaded him to
further suppress paganism. The emperor, on Ambrose's advice, confiscated the
property of the pagan temples; seized the properties of the Vestal Virgins
and pagan priests, and removed the statue of the Goddess of Victory from the
delegated the government of the eastern half of the Roman Empire to
Theodosius the Great in 379, the situation became worse for the Pagans.
Theodosius prohibited all forms of Pagan worship and allowed the temples to
be robbed, plundered, and ruthlessly destroyed by monks and other
enterprising Christians and participated in actions by Christians against
major pagan sites. Pagans openly voiced their resentment in historical
works, such as the writings of Eunapius and Olympiodorus; some writers
blamed the Christian hegemony for the 410 Sack of Rome. Christians destroyed
almost all such political literature and threatened to cut off the hands of
any copyist who dared to make new copies of the offending writings."
Though we have done
that throughout history, this approch declaring "Truth should wipe out
ignorance" "My religion is the ultimate truth and so we have the right to
kill and correct" and "Might is right" attitude. leads to total intolerance
and hence to terrorism based on religious beliefs. It is true that
throughout history this interreligious intolerance and consequent killing of
humans, plundering and destruction existed. We are actually receiving it
back as IS and al-Queida forces are returning what we gave doing the early 5
The problem with such
behaviour is the nullification of freedom of will and choice of individuals.
If our ways were indeed the eternal way, God could have done that by his
might simply by one word. The whole story of the incarnation and cross is
the story of tolerance and need of dialogue. What we the Sons of God are
using is the methods of sons of man. Are'nt we paying for it in the 21st century?
"When people are talking about differences, they are learning. When they are
talking, they are not killing. Dialogue and the exchange of perspectives is
a good thing indeed….
For Roman Catholic
Christians, what has made involvement in inter-religious dialogue even
possible is the work of the Second Vatican Council (1962-65) called by Pope
therefore remains for any theory or practice that leads to discrimination …
so far as their human dignity and the rights flowing from it are
THE RELATION OF THE CHURCH TO NON-CHRISTIAN RELIGIONS
PROCLAIMED BY HIS HOLINESS POPE PAUL VI ON OCTOBER 28, 1965
1. In our time, when day by day mankind is being drawn closer
together, and the ties between different peoples are becoming
stronger, the Church examines more closely her relationship to
non-Christian religions. In her task of promoting unity and love
among men, indeed among nations, she considers above all in this
declaration what men have in common and what draws them to
One is the community of all peoples, one their origin, for God made
the whole human race to live over the face of the earth.(1) One also
is their final goal, God. His providence, His manifestations of
goodness, His saving design extend to all men,(2) until that time
when the elect will be united in the Holy City, the city ablaze with
the glory of God, where the nations will walk in His light.(3)
Men expect from the various religions answers to the unsolved
riddles of the human condition, which today, even as in former
times, deeply stir the hearts of men: What is man? What is the
meaning, the aim of our life? What is moral good, what is sin?
Whence suffering and what purpose does it serve? Which is the road
to true happiness? What are death, judgment and retribution after
death? What, finally, is that ultimate inexpressible mystery which
encompasses our existence: whence do we come, and where are we
2. From ancient times down to the present, there is found among
various peoples a certain perception of that hidden power which
hovers over the course of things and over the events of human
history; at times some indeed have come to the recognition of a
Supreme Being, or even of a Father. This perception and recognition
penetrates their lives with a profound religious sense.
Religions, however, that are bound up with an advanced culture have
struggled to answer the same questions by means of more refined
concepts and a more developed language. Thus in Hinduism, men
contemplate the divine mystery and express it through an
inexhaustible abundance of myths and through searching philosophical
inquiry. They seek freedom from the anguish of our human condition
either through ascetical practices or profound meditation or a
flight to God with love and trust. Again, Buddhism, in its various
forms, realizes the radical insufficiency of this changeable world;
it teaches a way by which men, in a devout and confident spirit, may
be able either to acquire the state of perfect liberation, or
attain, by their own efforts or through higher help, supreme
illumination. Likewise, other religions found everywhere try to
counter the restlessness of the human heart, each in its own manner,
by proposing "ways," comprising teachings, rules of life, and sacred
rites. The Catholic Church rejects nothing that is true and holy in
these religions. She regards with sincere reverence those ways of
conduct and of life, those precepts and teachings which, though
differing in many aspects from the ones she holds and sets forth,
nonetheless often reflect a ray of that Truth which enlightens all
men. Indeed, she proclaims, and ever must proclaim Christ "the way,
the truth, and the life" (John 14:6), in whom men may find the
fullness of religious life, in whom God has reconciled all things to
The Church, therefore, exhorts her sons, that through dialogue and
collaboration with the followers of other religions, carried out
with prudence and love and in witness to the Christian faith and
life, they recognize, preserve and promote the good things,
spiritual and moral, as well as the socio-cultural values found
among these men.
3. The Church regards with esteem also the Moslems. They adore the
one God, living and subsisting in Himself; merciful and all-
powerful, the Creator of heaven and earth,(5) who has spoken to men;
they take pains to submit wholeheartedly to even His inscrutable
decrees, just as Abraham, with whom the faith of Islam takes
pleasure in linking itself, submitted to God. Though they do not
acknowledge Jesus as God, they revere Him as a prophet. They also
honor Mary, His virgin Mother; at times they even call on her with
devotion. In addition, they await the day of judgment when God will
render their deserts to all those who have been raised up from the
dead. Finally, they value the moral life and worship God especially
through prayer, almsgiving and fasting.
Since in the course of centuries not a few quarrels and hostilities
have arisen between Christians and Moslems, this sacred synod urges
all to forget the past and to work sincerely for mutual
understanding and to preserve as well as to promote together for the
benefit of all mankind social justice and moral welfare, as well as
peace and freedom.
4. As the sacred synod searches into the mystery of the Church, it
remembers the bond that spiritually ties the people of the New
Covenant to Abraham's stock.
Thus the Church of Christ acknowledges that, according to God's
saving design, the beginnings of her faith and her election are
found already among the Patriarchs, Moses and the prophets. She
professes that all who believe in Christ-Abraham's sons according to
faith (6)-are included in the same Patriarch's call, and likewise
that the salvation of the Church is mysteriously foreshadowed by the
chosen people's exodus from the land of bondage. The Church,
therefore, cannot forget that she received the revelation of the Old
Testament through the people with whom God in His inexpressible
mercy concluded the Ancient Covenant. Nor can she forget that she
draws sustenance from the root of that well-cultivated olive tree
onto which have been grafted the wild shoots, the Gentiles.(7)
Indeed, the Church believes that by His cross Christ, Our Peace,
reconciled Jews and Gentiles. making both one in Himself.(8)
The Church keeps ever in mind the words of the Apostle about his
kinsmen: "theirs is the sonship and the glory and the covenants and
the law and the worship and the promises; theirs are the fathers and
from them is the Christ according to the flesh" (Rom. 9:4-5), the
Son of the Virgin Mary. She also recalls that the Apostles, the
Church's main-stay and pillars, as well as most of the early
disciples who proclaimed Christ's Gospel to the world, sprang from
the Jewish people.
As Holy Scripture testifies, Jerusalem did not recognize the time of
her visitation,(9) nor did the Jews in large number, accept the
Gospel; indeed not a few opposed its spreading.(10) Nevertheless,
God holds the Jews most dear for the sake of their Fathers; He does
not repent of the gifts He makes or of the calls He issues-such is
the witness of the Apostle.(11) In company with the Prophets and the
same Apostle, the Church awaits that day, known to God alone, on
which all peoples will address the Lord in a single voice and "serve
him shoulder to shoulder" (Soph. 3:9).(12)
Since the spiritual patrimony common to Christians and Jews is thus
so great, this sacred synod wants to foster and recommend that
mutual understanding and respect which is the fruit, above all, of
biblical and theological studies as well as of fraternal dialogues.
True, the Jewish authorities and those who followed their lead
pressed for the death of Christ;(13) still, what happened in His
passion cannot be charged against all the Jews, without distinction,
then alive, nor against the Jews of today. Although the Church is
the new people of God, the Jews should not be presented as rejected
or accursed by God, as if this followed from the Holy Scriptures.
All should see to it, then, that in catechetical work or in the
preaching of the word of God they do not teach anything that does
not conform to the truth of the Gospel and the spirit of Christ.
Furthermore, in her rejection of every persecution against any man,
the Church, mindful of the patrimony she shares with the Jews and
moved not by political reasons but by the Gospel's spiritual love,
decries hatred, persecutions, displays of anti-Semitism, directed
against Jews at any time and by anyone.
Besides, as the Church has always held and holds now, Christ
underwent His passion and death freely, because of the sins of men
and out of infinite love, in order that all may reach salvation. It
is, therefore, the burden of the Church's preaching to proclaim the
cross of Christ as the sign of God's all-embracing love and as the
fountain from which every grace flows.
5. We cannot truly call on God, the Father of all, if we refuse to
treat in a brotherly way any man, created as he is in the image of
God. Man's relation to God the Father and his relation to men his
brothers are so linked together that Scripture says: "He who does
not love does not know God" (1 John 4:8).
No foundation therefore remains for any theory or practice that
leads to discrimination between man and man or people and people, so
far as their human dignity and the rights flowing from it are
The Church reproves, as foreign to the mind of Christ, any
discrimination against men or harassment of them because of their
race, color, condition of life, or religion.
On the contrary, following in the footsteps of the holy Apostles
Peter and Paul, this sacred synod ardently implores the Christian
faithful to "maintain good fellowship among the nations" (1 Peter
2:12), and, if possible, to live for their part in peace with all
men,(14) so that they may truly be sons of the Father who is in
2:4 3. Cf.
21:23f. 4. Cf 2
5. Cf St. Gregory VII,
letter XXI to Anzir (Nacir), King of Mauritania (Pl.
148, col. 450f.) 6. Cf.
3:7 7. Cf.
2:14-16 9. Cf.
19:44 10. Cf.
11:28-29; cf. dogmatic Constitution,
Lumen Gentium (Light
of nations) AAS, 57 (1965) pag. 20
11:11-32 13. Cf.
19:6 14. Cf.
12:18 15. Cf.
We have seen this
warfare even within the Church between various theological groups. I suppose
Ambrose contributed to this catastrophe and practice of subjugation to a
great extent. It took us 15 to 20 centuries to understand this. The World
Council of Churches which was started as a feeble attempt for
inter-denominational dialogue still remain incomplete without many Christian
Churches as its part.