This is a link to the Windows Media Audio file of the debate.
This is a transcript of the 2011 debate between Bro. Peter Dimond and Robert Sungenis on Vatican II’s teaching on the Muslims in Nostra Aetate #3. We have provided the transcript because we feel that it’s revealing and important. (The video and audio links to the debate are found below the transcript. Bolding, italics and underlining in this transcript are our own.)
Hello, this is a debate between Brother Peter Dimond of Most Holy Family Monastery and Robert Sungenis of Catholic Apologetics International. The resolution for the debate is:
“Vatican II’s teaching on the Muslims in Nostra Aetate #3 is false, heretical and contrary to the teaching of the Catholic Church.”
Brother Peter Dimond and Most Holy Family Monastery take the affirmative, that Vatican II’s teaching is false and heretical. Robert Sungenis and Catholic Apologetics International take the negative, that Vatican II’s teaching is not false and heretical. The relevant portion of the passage that will be debated is as follows:
Vatican II, Nostra Aetate #3: “The Church regards the Muslims with esteem. They adore the one God, living and subsisting in Himself; merciful and all-powerful, the Creator of heaven and earth, 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… Finally, they value the moral life and worship God especially through prayer, almsgiving and fasting.”
So now I’m going to begin with my two minute opening statement.
BRO. PETER DIMOND:
The first thing that I want to say is the first line of this passage is what we need to focus on. When you look at the passage in the Latin, the gravity and the malice of what is being said is striking. The first line says: Ecclesia, the Church. Vatican II is referring to the Church with a capital ‘C’, the same Church which declared at the Council of Florence that all who die outside of her are not saved. Vatican II says that this Church, respicit, looks upon the Muslims. Muslimos is in the accusative plural. Vatican II is officially looking upon the Muslims, and what does Vatican II say about how the one Church looks upon the Muslims? It says that the Church looks upon the Muslims cum aestimatione, that is, with esteem. According to Vatican II, the one Church, the Holy Catholic Church, officially looks upon the Muslims with esteem. This is heresy, and in fact the opposite of Catholic teaching. In 1434 Pope Eugene IV declared that Islam is an abominable sect, that is, it’s something that God abhors. In 1455 Pope Calixtus III declared that Islam is a diabolical sect, that is, it’s of the Devil. It should also be noted that this passage in Vatican II is not talking about one Muslim who did something nice, such as helping an old woman across the street. No, it’s esteeming Muslims as a whole and in view of their religious practices and beliefs. That’s why it goes on to praise the Muslims for their prayer, almsgiving and fasts. It also says that the Muslims worship God, the one God who has spoken to humanity. In this very context, Vatican II refers to fides Islamica: the Islamic faith. Vatican II is esteeming the Islamic faith, a false religion that the Church considers to be an abomination.
My opening statement consists of this: first of all we must recognize that Vatican II is an ecumenical council of the Catholic Church wherein 2300 bishops reiterated Catholic doctrine and which doctrine was endorsed by Papal authority. If there is just one dogmatic heresy in Vatican II, then it is good as worthless, because then there could be hundreds of errors and we would be better throwing the whole thing out. Prior to Vatican II, there is no dogmatic teaching on the Muslims, and even what is included in Vatican II about the Muslims does not reach the level of defined dogma, and in that sense, Vatican II’s statements about the Muslims cannot be heretical, if we define heresy as rejecting defined dogma. Heresy is defined by paragraph 2089 of the Catholic catechism and canon 751 as: “the obstinate post-baptismal denial of some truth which must be believed with divine and Catholic faith, or it is likewise an obstinate doubt concerning the same.” As such, there is nothing in Nostra Aetate 3 that is heresy. There may be ambiguous statements, incomplete statements or even questionable statements, but nothing that is certified heresy. If Nostra Aetate 3 said something to this effect: “The Muslims, even outside invincible ignorance, do not need to accept the Christian faith and membership in the Catholic Church for salvation,” that would be heretical. Or if it said, “The Muslims can be considered Christians, despite the fact that they do not accept the Incarnation and the Trinity,” that would be heretical. Nostra Aetate merely makes statements of fact about what the Muslims claim to believe about their religion. Vatican II determines how close or how far away these claims are to the doctrine of the Catholic Church.
BRO. PETER DIMOND
I would respond by addressing your statement that Vatican II’s statement does not deny any defined dogma. It actually denies two defined dogmas. The first defined dogma that I want to talk about is the dogma that it’s impossible for God to approve false sects. This was proclaimed by Pope Leo XII in Ubi Primum, 1824. He said: “It is impossible for the Most True God, who is Truth itself, to approve all sects who profess false teachings.” He goes on to say: “By divine faith we hold there is one Lord.” So, it’s a dogma that the Church and God do not approve false sects. Islam is actually declared by the Magisterium to be a diabolical sect, and an abominable sect; so it’s actually a sect. And this passage in Vatican II is esteeming the false sect of Islam. And that’s actually even admitted by Benedict XVI in his address, December 22nd, 2006. He says:
“My visit to Turkey afforded me the opportunity to show also publicly my respect for the Islamic religion, a respect, moreover, which the Second Vatican Council (declaration Nostra Aetate #3) pointed out to us as an attitude that is only right.”
So, Robert Sungenis’ own authority, Benedict XVI, admits that this very passage we’re talking about here, Nostra Aetate #3, doesn’t merely make factual statements about what the Muslims believe, but actually esteems and respects their false religion. He says the same thing in his Catechesis, August 4th, 2005. He says:
“Nostra Aetate, which has ushered in a new season of dialogue… as well as esteem for the other great religious traditions. Islam occupies a special place among them.”
So, he teaches that it esteems a false religion, and that directly denies the dogma that God does not approve false sects. The other dogma it denies is the dogma that there is no true worship outside the Catholic Church. This dogma was proclaimed by Pope Gregory XVI in Summo Iugiter Studio, and in my next section I will talk more about that. I have a few seconds left. He says: “This is indeed the teaching of the Catholic Church: ‘The Holy Universal Church teaches that it is not possible to worship God truly except in her, and asserts that all who are outside of her are not saved,’” and refers to this as a dogma. Vatican II teaches that the Muslims truly worship God outside the Catholic faith, and that’s a denial of this dogma.
Alright, dealing with Pope Leo XII first, I would agree that it’s impossible to approve a sect, but the Catholic Church is not approving the Muslims. It says that it esteems the Muslims because of certain conditions, one of those is that they worship one God. It’s not approving of Islam because the word Islam is never used in Nostra Aetate 3. The word that’s used is the word, Muslims, referring to a plurality of people that hold to a certain belief about God: that he does certain things, and that he’s the Creator; and they adore him because of those things. Benedict XVI’s statement, his opinion of the fact that Nostra Aetate is talking about Islam, is inconsequential because that’s not what Nostra Aetate 3 says; and Benedict XVI did not say that in an official statement of the Church. That’s just his private opinion. Regarding the statement about the pope, I forget which pope you said, you said there’s no true worship outside the Catholic Church and I would agree with that. But Nostra Aetate 3 is not talking about true worship; it’s talking about the worship that Muslims give to the one God. The Catholic Church would never sanction that as true worship; there are different levels of worship that the Catholic Church would recognize in different religions, but never say that that’s true worship. The only true worship is in the Catholic Church. You said that Vatican II said that Muslims truly worship, they don’t, Nostra Aetate 3 does not use the word truly in its paragraph, so that’s an adjective that is not helpful at all, and wasn’t used.
BRO. PETER DIMOND
You said that Nostra Aetate #3 never used the term Islam, but actually it did. It refers to fides Islamica, the Islamic faith, in the very context of praising them for their fasts, their worship, etc. And you say that Benedict XVI’s statements are inconsequential; well he’s actually your “authority,” and this is not just Benedict XVI. Paul VI actually says in his Apostolic Exhortation, December 8th, 1975: “The Church respects and esteems these non-Christian religions.” He says again in his message of December 6, 1977: “Non-Christian religions which the Church respects and esteems.” I have about twenty quotes from the antipopes of the Vatican II Church saying that they esteem false religions, and they base themselves on Vatican II. And in the quotes I gave, Benedict XVI is specifically addressing this very passage, and you say that’s inconsequential. No, it’s not inconsequential because of the array of this teaching. We have it taught in an encyclical, Redemptoris Missio, an Apostolic Exhortation, speeches, homilies, addresses of all kinds, conferences to bishops. If they are popes, this constitutes the official teaching of the Magisterium because of the repeated nature of this teaching. In fact, it’s very interesting to note that this confirmation of Vatican II, and its heresy here on the Muslims, and esteeming false religions, is more than we have from the popes who promulgated the Council of Nicea, the Council of Ephesus and the Council of Nicea II. We have no direct evidence from Pope St. Sylvester that he approved Nicea any more than via his Papal Legates. We have no direct Papal bull from him. Same thing with Celestine and the Council of Ephesus. Same thing with the Second Council of Nicea. So we have more evidence here on this very point, Benedict XVI’s approval of Vatican II, than we do those popes from those councils.
I don’t see the word Islamica in the Latin, I have the Latin in front of me here. I see the word Muslimos in paragraph one. Muslimos in paragraph two, so I would have to contest that claim that Islamica is used. Second, I’m going back to Benedict XVI, yeah he’s my authority, but he’s my authority under certain conditions. He’s not an authority of me when he gives his personal opinion about what Vatican II said or what he wrote in Jesus of Nazareth, his new book, or whatever. Only in an official sense is he my authority, and even then we have room to disagree with him. None of these documents that you have cited, whether written by a pope or a council, ever stated the Islamic religion is a true religion, or that the Muslims are worshipping under a true religion. There’s no language to that effect whatsoever; so, in other words, the Catholic Church is not endorsing the Islamic faith as being a true religion. It is looking at different aspects of the Islamic faith or what the Muslim people practice, and saying those things are things we can affirm because we have the same things in our religion. But it’s not affirming the whole religion and all that it believes as a true form of worship to God. When the Church says, “the Church regards with esteem the Muslims,” this is no different than what St. Paul said to the Athenians in Acts 17:22, when he said, “Men of Athens, I have observed that you are very religious in all respects.” The words ‘very religious’ are from the Greek, deisidaimonesterous, which means exactly how it’s translated: ‘you are very religious.’ Now, how could Paul say that to these people, when he was walking amongst all their idols? Well, the reason is because he sees that they are very religious people; they’re searching for something; they don’t know exactly what it is, but they know that there’s something. It is something greater than they are. Well, that’s exactly what the Church is recognizing.
BRO. PETER DIMOND
I’ll respond to your claim that the word Islam is not there; fides Islamica is in the Latin right where it’s talking about Abraham. That’s definitely there; and in fact in the Vatican translation which we agreed to read in the intro, it translates it as the faith of Islam. We have again this array of so-called Papal teaching from your authorities admitting exactly what I’m saying: it’s not just factually stating what they believe: it’s praising and esteeming their religion. As far as Acts 17 goes, as St. Gregory Nyssa points out in his commentary on this passage: “they were mad with their idolatry.” All St. Paul was saying in that passage is that, even though they were confessing that they did not know God, they were confessing in that act that which is true. He was not saying that they worship the true God outside of the Church, and especially while they worship idols. In fact, in Jerome’s translation, he uses superstitiosiores, which is superstitious. That’s what he uses in the Latin. But, getting back to this point that he can sort of just dismiss what all these quotes say about this particular passage, you can’t do that because, as I was pointing out earlier, it’s more authoritative than we have in how past popes confirmed councils. Another example would be Pope St. Leo II. He wrote five letters in confirmation of the Third Council of Constantinople, and these letters are considered definitive in how the Church accepted that council. Well, we’ve got much more from Benedict XVI and Paul VI esteeming false religions based on Vatican II, and the similar type of doctrine, than we have from Leo II in confirmation of Constantinople III. A true pope cannot be confirming heretical interpretations of an ecumenical council in that fashion. That’s why you can’t really run from it. There’s no escape. In my next point I’ll address some of the other comments.
In response I would say: there is no contest between how much a council or a teaching of the Catholic Church is confirmed. It’s either confirmed or it isn’t confirmed. Whether it’s Nicea or Chalcedon, you know, in those very short conciliar statements, and they were accepted by the Church implicitly, so there’s no contest there. This is not a contest between how much has been written; it’s just a matter of whether it’s done or not done. There is no decree from any pope that’s saying that what Nostra Aetate says about the Muslims is infallible dogma; and thus as I said in the beginning, it can’t be heretical because there’s nothing officially proclaimed in a decree from Nostra Aetate that goes against any established and official doctrine of the Catholic Church. These statements that are in Nostra Aetate 3 are basically factual statements of what the Muslims claim to believe, and because they claim to believe certain things that are rather close to what we believe, we can affirm them as Nostra Aetate 2 says. We will accept anything that’s true, whether it’s in religion or it could be in science or it could be in anything. The Church will accept what is true and the Church is the final judge as to what is true.
When it says, in Nostra Aetate 3, “they take pains to submit wholeheartedly to even His inscrutable decrees, just as Abraham, with whom the faith of Islam,” and I agree with you, I, I made a mistake there. The reason that fides Islamica, I missed that, is because it’s talking there about the faith of Islam as compared to Abraham because it says there: the faith of Islam takes pleasure in linking itself” to Abraham. It’s not affirming that because they link themselves to Abraham that this is a legitimate link. It’s just that they take pleasure in doing so.
BRO. PETER DIMOND
You said that there is no indication that these statements of the antipopes, the people you would regard as true popes, are confirming this teaching as binding. Well, we have all kinds of quotes in which they say that Muslims and Catholics have the same God: we have the same faith. It’s taught in the new catechism. It’s taught in documents that clearly would be Magisterial pronouncements, and they are not just saying that they claim to worship one God. They are saying that their worship is true, and they actually link it with Christian worship. Just one example of many I could give is Benedict XVI’s speech in the mosque, May 9th, 2009. He says: “Places of worship like this splendid Al-Hussein Mosque, named after the revered late King, stand out like jewels across the Earth’s surface.” He’s saying that this place of worship stands out like a jewel. He’s saying that it’s good. He goes on to say that “Christians and Muslims must strive to be recognized as worshippers of God faithful to prayer.” So, he’s praising their worship, and he goes on to say: “Muslims worship God the Creator of Heaven and Earth who has spoken to humanity.” He’s referring to Vatican II, the very passage we’re talking about, and he goes on to say: “as believers in the one God.”
He’s not just stating facts about their worship. He’s stating that their worship is true. He’s linking it with Christian worship. In fact, that’s why Benedict XVI, in his May 20th, 2009, Catechesis, he says: “It is to this peace that Jews, Christians and Muslims are called to bear witness in order to honor with acts that God to whom they pray with their lips.” He’s saying that Christians and Muslims honor God with their lips. Well, Christians’ worship is true; we would agree with that. Therefore, by linking it here, and saying they honor God with their lips, he’s also saying that the Islamic worship is true. This is all based on Vatican II, as they make clear in many, many quotes.
I would just reiterate here: this is not a debate about Benedict XVI. If we want to debate about Benedict XVI and what he says, whether he has issued some erroneous statements, or even heretical statements, we can have that debate; but that’s not this debate. This debate is whether Nostra Aetate says anything heretical or not. So, again, it’s inconsequential what Benedict XVI says in regard to this, especially in his private opinions. I would myself disagree with Benedict XVI on a lot of what he says; I just wrote a critique of his book Jesus of Nazareth, where I take him to task, at his own invitation by the way, on several things that he has said that are wrong. So, again, it’s not Benedict XVI, it’s Nostra Aetate. So, that means that all the popes that you say, or whoever said that this is true worship, that’s not what Nostra Aetate said. So I think for the remainder of this debate we’re going to have to stick with Nostra Aetate 3 and see what it says and see if the Church anywhere has declared that heretical. Otherwise, I think we’re just going to go round in circles. Now, back to Nostra Aetate 3, when it says that they, the Muslims, “take pains to submit wholeheartedly to His inscrutable decrees,” well this is similar to what Paul said in Romans chapter 2, verse 14-15: when he talks about the Gentiles who do by nature what the law requires, showing that they have the law written on their hearts. Well, that’s what the Muslims do, and the Catholic Church respects that because it creates a moral order, because it promotes obedience to God’s laws which we all need to live by on this Earth. It’s not saying that the Muslims are going to be saved by that. They may or may not be. It’s not saying that this is complete or a true worship. It’s just saying that this is something that the Muslims do, that Paul recognizes.
BRO. PETER DIMOND
The statements from Benedict XVI and the other post-Vatican II “popes” are directly relevant to this issue because they’re basing themselves on Vatican II, and so what your authorities say about this passage is directly material to this topic. You said a few times that “this is not a dogmatic issue; it does not deny any dogma.” Well, that’s just not correct. As I cited, it is a dogma that God does not approve false sects. We have a direct denial of that dogma in this passage, by saying that the Church esteems a false sect. It is also a direct denial of this dogma, proclaimed by Pope Gregory XVI, Summo Iugiter Studio. He says: “This is indeed the teaching of the Catholic Church. The Holy Universal Church teaches that it is not possible to worship God truly except in her and asserts that all who are outside of her will not be saved. Official acts of the Church proclaim the same dogma.”
So, it’s a dogma that you cannot truly worship God except in the Catholic Church. That is clearly denied in Nostra Aetate #3 because it says that they ‘adore God’ and it praises their worship. It mentions esteem in that context. It even praises their precepts; it even praises their prayer, almsgiving and fasts. It praises them, despite mentioning the fact that they don’t accept Jesus as God. And the understanding of your authorities after this document was promulgated, and the very men who promulgated it and implemented it, is that this worship is true, as the quotes I’ve been discussing prove. There’s just no way around that fact because those quotes would constitute the teaching of the Magisterium about Vatican II (and about this passage) if they were in fact legitimate. So, it’s very important to consider.
You said that whatever the popes said is relevant to the issue. I would agree they’re relevant, but that’s not the question. The question was, the question is, rather, what the pope has said about these passages in Nostra Aetate 3. Are they official teachings of the pope and are they binding? If they’re not, then we can ignore them. So, it’s not even fruitful for me to discuss them because I have no obligation to abide by a personal opinion of the pope, whether he’s in ecumenical dialogue with the Muslims or whatever. It just has nothing to do with this debate, even though in an indirect way it may be relevant. It might help us to get thoughts started as to what Nostra Aetate is really saying, but the debate again has to deal with Nostra Aetate. Now, Nostra Aetate 3 does not say that it approves of Islam, for you won’t find those words there. How could it say that it approves of Islam, because it knows that there are many errors in Islam. For example, it admits that Islam, the Muslims do not believe that Jesus Christ was God. It acknowledges that they believe He’s a prophet. Well, obviously the Catholic Church can’t approve of that, and if it can’t approve of that aspect of Islam, then it’s not going to approve of any aspects of Islam, even though there are some things that are very close to the Catholic Church which the Islamic religion believes. And those are the things it stresses, and the only things that it stresses. The whole reason it was written was to find areas where these monotheistic religions have some kind of commonplace understanding of the world and of God that the Catholic Church does, so that at least we can meet on common ground; so that when the Church goes to preach the Gospel to the Muslims, which, she does say in Nostra Aetate 4, at the end there in the last paragraph, that she has fertile ground on which to do so. She does have the obligation to preach to the Muslims because they don’t have the true Gospel.
BRO. PETER DIMOND
You said that none of those statements are binding. As I pointed out, an array of statements and speeches (Apostolic Exhortation, Encyclical) would be binding, so that argument doesn’t hold up. Also, in his address of December 2nd, 1977, Paul VI, referring to Vatican II’s teaching on the Muslims, he quotes it and says: “As the Second Vatican Council solemnly declared…” He refers to Vatican II’s heretical teaching on the Muslims as having been “solemnly declared.” It is official, there’s no way to run from it. You say it doesn’t use the word ‘approve’ in Nostra Aetate #3. It doesn’t need to. If something is equivalent to a denial of a dogma, it’s heresy. For example, someone could say: “there’s no Holy Trinity.” Well, it’s never been defined, word-for-word: there is a Holy Trinity; but obviously the statement: “there is no Holy Trinity” translates into a denial of the truth that there is Father, Son and Holy Ghost, which has been defined. If something translates into a denial, it’s heresy, and in fact St. Thomas Aquinas explains this in his Summa. He says: “Now a thing may be of faith in two ways: directly and principally… and in another way, indirectly and secondarily.” He says: “Those matters, the denial of which leads to the corruption of some article of faith; and there may be heresy in either way, even as there can be faith.” He’s saying there can be direct heresy, and there can also be heresy indirectly when something translates into a denial of a dogma. We clearly have that here. In fact, we have direct heresy because it’s a dogma, and I’m going to get to some of these Papal quotes on Islam: that Islam is a sect, a false sect of the Devil which God abhors – and that the Church and God cannot esteem such a sect or approve. To say that the Church esteems Islam is stronger than saying that it approves it. It’s looking with favor upon Islam, and it says that they worship the one God who has spoken to humanity. Therefore, it’s the true God because the true God has ‘spoken to humanity.’
What Paul VI said about Vatican II or Nostra Aetate being a solemn decree, I would abide by that. But there’s nowhere where Paul VI says that Nostra Aetate 3 is heretical. I mean if we’re going to take Paul VI’s statements about Vatican II or Nostra Aetate as binding, well, where’s the binding statement that Paul VI said that Nostra Aetate was heretical? There is none. So, it’s again, it’s going around in circles appealing to Paul VI because it doesn’t prove any point for you. You say there’s no way to run from it. Well, we’re not running from it. Ok, we’re asking where is the heresy in Nostra Aetate 3? There is no statement made by Nostra Aetate 3 that goes against a dogmatic declaration of the Church regarding the Muslims. Ok, there are certain statements that popes have made about Muslims being a sect, and I would agree with them; but that’s not the issue that Nostra Aetate 3 is covering. Nostra Aetate 3 is covering the aspects of the Islamic faith that coincide with what Christian’s believe, because Nostra Aetate 3 has a certain, what you would call, appeal, that it wants to make so that men can live in peace. And one of the ways to do that is to look at the commonality between these two religions. When we get to other aspects of the Catholic faith, which deal with the errors of the Islamic faith, we have a whole litany of things the popes have said that show the errors, and even some of those errors Nostra Aetate 3 covers. But that’s not what Nostra Aetate 3 is discussing, so we have to look at it in context before we start judging what it’s saying.
BRO. PETER DIMOND
You said that we don’t have any infallible decree from these individuals, the post-Vatican II quote-“popes,” that Nostra Aetate is heretical. Well, obviously they’re not going to declare their own decree heretical. We don’t need an infallible decree from the heretics who imposed it that their own statement is heretical. We just need to prove that it contradicts the teaching of the Church; just like you, I think, would reject the Joint Declaration with the Lutherans on Justification because it contradicts Trent. You don’t need a decree from your own quote-“pope,” who’s actually an antipope, saying that the Joint Declaration is heretical. So, that’s not something one would need to show. Also, it is the teaching of the Catholic Church, not only that Islam is an abominable sect, but that Islam and its adherents are pagans. This was declared in a bull to the universal Church by Pope Calixtus III, in which he wrote to the entire Church and he instituted a prayer that must be said against the Muslims called the Missa Contra Paganos: The Mass Against the Pagans, declaring that they are pagans. It’s also interesting that throughout the Crusade literature the Muslims are considered pagans because that’s what the Church has taught about them. They are not worshippers of the true God. Pagans obviously do not worship the true God, and so when we consider that Catholic teaching on Islam, we can see how it’s actually just the opposite of the Vatican II Church’s teaching, which is that they’re believers. They say over and over again: “they’re believers, believers, believers, they worship God.” There are maybe close to a hundred quotes. Pope Pius II referred to the Turks, who were the Muslims, as ‘godless.’ I already quoted Eugene IV and Calixtus III. Pope Pius II referred to Mohammed as the ‘False Prophet’ and their practices as ‘Mohammetan abominations.’ That’s quite a contrast to what Vatican II says, praising them for their prayer, almsgiving and fasts.
The first point you made is about: we can’t appeal to the popes to declare their own council heretical because the popes are heretical in themselves, or as you would agree with, they’re not real true popes. Well, this is just a vicious circle. So, if it’s a vicious circle for you to appeal to the popes to comment on Vatican II in one sense, it’s a vicious circle to appeal to them in the other sense because if they’re heretical, who makes a difference what they’re saying as far as you are concerned? So, you can’t appeal to them. When you talked to me and said that you can appeal to them because they’re my authority, I’ve already established the fact they’re my authority under certain conditions, and those conditions, as far as binding me to what they say about Vatican II’s Nostra Aetate 3, have not been established as yet. You mentioned Pope Calixtus III who called the Muslims pagans. Well, I have no problem with that. They are pagans. Vatican II’s Nostra Aetate doesn’t get into that aspect of it here because that’s not their purpose. The Church, in other contexts, has gotten into that. Paul himself got into that issue with the Athenians in Acts 17. They were pagans as far as he was concerned, but they were pagans he was trying to enlighten to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. He saw one way to do that was to find an area of commonality between him and them, which he saw in the fact that they were very religious people. He did not say that because they worshipped these gods that he could not use that as a base from which to communicate with them. He did just the opposite.
BRO. PETER DIMOND
You said it’s a ‘vicious circle.’ It’s actually not. It’s completely valid to point out the fundamental inconsistency in all who would adhere to Vatican II. Everyone who would logically and consistently accept Vatican II and this passage you are defending would have to accept the authority of the men who promulgated it. What their authority says about this passage is therefore relevant; and, in appealing to it, we’re not saying it’s true. We’re just pointing out that if anyone wants to accept Vatican II as authoritative, they would also have to accept the authority of those who promulgated it as authoritative. And what they say, in an array of teaching that would constitute magisterial teaching – as I said, it’s an encyclical, Apostolic Exhortation, addresses of all types, catechesis. There’s no way the Church could promulgate heretical teaching on a council in this kind of format, and so frequently. I also wanted to note something else that’s interesting. In John 4:23-24, Jesus says that “God is a Spirit, and they that adore Him must adore Him in Spirit and in Truth.” So, in the New Covenant, in order to truly adore God, you have to do it in truth, and in acceptance of Christ, of course. Well, the Muslims reject Christ; but what’s fascinating is, in the Vulgate for this passage, John 4:23-24, it uses adorant, qui adorant: they who adore Him. Well, that’s the same word we find in Nostra Aetate. It says, adorant: they adore God who has spoken to humanity. So, we have Vatican II saying that they adore God who has spoken to humanity – thus the true God, because the true God is the one who has spoken to humanity. And we have the Gospel saying that those who adore God must accept Christ, must do it in truth. They cannot do it in a false sect where they reject Jesus as God. In fact, Vatican II says in this very passage that they do not accept Jesus as God. So, while saying that they do not accept Jesus as God, it also says that they adore God. It’s a denial of the Gospel.
Actually, the word, it is adorant that they use, but the Latin has no article, so the phrase could actually be read they adore one God. Now, that’s a statement of fact, they adore one God. That’s what Muslim’s claim, and if they claim that, and we see that they do actually adore one God, we see a commonality with them, and that’s what it’s established on. It’s not saying that they have true worship, and this is a point I wanted to make last time. You were saying that they do not worship the true God. The better way to say this is ‘they do not worship God truly.’ We believe that there is only one God. So, if Muslims are claiming to adore one God, then logically for us, since there is no other God – and there is no God that is not in existence – then the Muslims would have to be obeying or adoring one God; and that God has to be the same God as we believe, because there is only one God. There is no other God. It’s just a matter of logical deduction. Paul has already agreed with that when he says that the Gentiles, in Romans 2, obey the laws that God has written on their hearts; are they are adoring the one God by obeying those laws that the one God has given them? Well, of course they are. As a matter of fact, Paul says, the reason they get into sin is because they stop adoring that God. They stop worshipping him; they stop giving thanks and honor that he’s supposed to have, as Romans 1:18-20 says. They refuse to give Him honor and thanks. So, there is a degree here. This is not just a black and white issue. There is a degree of worship that someone can give to God that is not exactly true worship that we find in the Catholic Church; but it is a form of worship, and that is characteristic of the Muslim faith. Now, Pius XII, or Pius II rather, can call Mohammed a false prophet and I would too. He’s a false prophet teaching false things, but that’s not the issue of Nostra Aetate 3. It’s talking about the issues in the Muslim faith that are in common with the Catholic faith, and from those what can we do.
BRO. PETER DIMOND
You said Nostra Aetate #3 is not saying that it’s true worship. Well, that can be demonstrated that it is in various ways. It says, “they adore God who has spoken to humanity.” That’s the true God. And: “they seek to submit themselves as Abraham did.” Abraham sought to submit himself in the Old Testament period to the true God. And it praises them with “esteem,” cum aestimatione; so, it’s not saying this is false worship. It’s saying this is true worship, as quote after quote after quote after quote one could bring forward from your own authorities proves. That’s why I cited earlier Benedict XVI’s statements in the mosque. He says: “Places of worship like this… Mosque… stand out like jewels.” He goes on to praise their worship. We have quote after quote: John Paul II saying we believe in the same God; we’re united in faith in the one God. Benedict XVI, Pilgrim Fellowship of Faith: “Christians and Islam have inherited the same God.” On and on, basing themselves on Vatican II. In fact, there’s an interesting quote on that, but before I get to that, St. Thomas, I wanted to get this quote in there: St. Thomas in his Summa Theologica, II, II. He says: “Now, man is more than ever separated from God by unbelief because he has not even true knowledge of God, and by a false knowledge of God man does not approach Him, but is severed from Him, nor is it possible for one who has a false opinion of God to know Him in any way at all because the object of His opinion is not God.” He’s pointing out that if someone has a false opinion about God, he cannot worship the true God; and, of course, that’s what’s being denied in Nostra Aetate. Also, citing scripture passages – none of those scripture passages say that Muslims or people who reject Christ have true worship; they’re making other points, and every exegesis of scripture must submit itself to the Magisterium.
You talked about Abraham. The reason they, Nostra Aetate, talks about, “just as Abraham,” is because the Muslims themselves take pleasure in linking themselves to Abraham. That’s why that is in there. In other words, Nostra Aetate is recognizing that because the Muslims link themselves to Abraham, and worship the same God as Abraham, from their perspective, that we recognize this. We’re not saying that their linking to Abraham is either direct, legitimate, fully complete, or something that we would accept in the sense that it is ultimately true without any error whatsoever. We’re not. That’s not what Nostra Aetate is even dealing with. It’s dealing with the fact that Muslims link themselves to Abraham, and because of this: Abraham worshipped one God, so that means the Muslims worship one God. And again, by logical deduction, since there is no other God, the Muslims would have to be worshipping the same God as Abraham because there is no other God to worship. Now you kept saying that Nostra Aetate is talking about true worship. Again, the word true is not used in Nostra Aetate 3, whatsoever. It’s not saying that the Muslims have true worship. Their worship has, is admitted in many documents of the Church, Muslim worship is not complete worship. It’s not true worship as Catholics understand true worship, so that’s not an issue to be contested here because Nostra Aetate does not use the word. You referred to Benedict XVI saying that these were jewels. Again, this is a private opinion of Benedict XVI that we’re not bound to. You talked about John Paul II and his statements about the Muslims. Well, John Paul II has gone astray on some of the teachings of Vatican II, and one of them is the Assisi interreligious prayer meetings that I have talked about myself. This is the problem with the Church today, that it has taken things that Nostra Aetate has said, and expanded them to areas where the Church has never touched upon before.
BRO. PETER DIMOND
You’re saying it doesn’t say it’s true worship. Well, it’s clearly saying that it’s true worship. It doesn’t have to use the word true when it esteems their worship; it praises their fasts, almsgiving – saying that they worship God who has spoken to humanity. It’s clearly true worship, as all these quotes prove. But here’s another address directly on point. Benedict XVI, Address, September 25th, 2006: “I would like to reiterate today all the esteem and the profound respect that I have for Muslim believers calling to mind the words of the Second Vatican Council, which for the Catholic Church are the Magna Carta of Muslim-Catholic dialogue: ‘The Church looks upon Muslims with respect. They worship the one God, living and subsistent…’” and he goes on to quote Nostra Aetate #3, and he praises them and encourages them in celebration of Ramadan. So, basing himself on Vatican II, he’s clearly saying their worship is true, they worship the one God. He’s saying this worship is worthy of esteem and profound respect. It’s clearly true worship, and there’s just simply no way someone can consistently say otherwise. It’s also important to consider the full context of Nostra Aetate to get a better idea of its real meaning. In Nostra Aetate #2, where it makes certain statements about Buddhism and Hinduism, it says similar problematic statements about those false religions. In Buddhism it says, “A way is taught by which men can achieve illumination.” Obviously, the Catholic Church could never say that without saying: “that’s what they claim, and their religion is false.” But, it’s very relevant and instructive to note that Paul VI, in commenting on Nostra Aetate #2, and its statement about Buddhism, which comes just a paragraph above what we’re talking about, he says: “The Second Vatican Council declared that the Catholic Church looks with sincere respect on your way of life.” So, again, basing himself on Vatican II, he doesn’t just say that this is what they claim to believe. He says it’s praising their religion, their way of life.
You made the claim that Nostra Aetate does not have to use the word true in order to refer to true worship. I would contest that. The very reason Nostra Aetate does not use the word true is because it doesn’t want to say that the Muslims have true worship. It is saying that they have similar aspects of worship that we find in Catholicism, but it’s not saying they have true worship. The word is not there. Benedict XVI, commenting on Nostra Aetate 3, the first part of the statement that you made on Benedict XVI, are taken right out of Nostra Aetate 3, so I would have no disagreement with him. The error occurs when he encourages them to practice their feast of Ramadan. That is something that the Apostle Paul would not tell the Athenians, “well, go ahead and practice your feast days to these idols after I’m gone, that’s Ok.” And John Paul II did the same thing. You know, “it’s Ok to pray to your pagan gods for world peace.” That’s taking Vatican II way too far. But this issue again is not talking about either Benedict XVI or John Paul II, and it’s not talking about Paul VI’s respect for your way of life in dealing with the Muslims. It’s dealing with Nostra Aetate 3. Nostra Aetate 3 is the focal point of this debate. That has to be shown to have heretical statements in it, and so far I haven’t seen any heretical statements. I’ve seen attempts to put the word true, the adjective true in front of worship in these passages, but I haven’t seen the word true. So, if Nostra Aetate 3 had said: “the Muslims give true worship to God through prayer, almsgiving and fasting,” I would say: “yeah, you have a point,” because they don’t give true worship. They are worshipping in their religion, and that religion has some similarities to ours, and that’s what’s emphasized in Nostra Aetate 3.
BRO. PETER DIMOND
We must keep in mind that there are two distinct heresies here. Each one is equally indefensible. The heresy that Islam is esteemed, which is clearly taught: cum aestimatione, with esteem. That’s how the Church supposedly looks upon the Muslims corporately, not just one Muslim who helped an old lady across the street: the Muslims, as a whole, fides Islamica, with esteem. That is heresy. That denies the dogma, as Pope Leo articulates. That’s one indefensible heresy. The other indefensible heresy is the true worship heresy. You said, in reference to the address that I quoted from Benedict XVI, September 25th, 2006, that you disagree with the second part, about encouraging them to celebrate Ramadan, but not the first part. Well, the first part says: “I would like to reiterate today all the esteem and the profound respect that I have for Muslim believers, calling to mind the words of the Second Vatican Council.” He’s talking about all the believers of Islam. All of them – esteem and respect, because he’s esteeming the entire religion, all of them and their worship. That, a Catholic must reject as heretical. There are many other quotes that the Church has issued against Islam that I want to cite here, just to make quick reference to a few of them. Pope Clement V at the Council of Vienne says: “It’s an insult that they even worship.” He says: “This brings disrepute on our faith and gives great scandal to the faithful,” and he was talking about in Christian lands these practices cannot be tolerated without displeasing the Divine Majesty. If you put that side by side with what Vatican II’s teaching about the Muslims, it’s the opposite. It’s the opposite. He says they are to forbid expressly the public invocation of the sacrilegious name of Mohammed. And then we have Pius XI referring to the ‘impious Mohammedan power.’ Well, actually, the Vatican II Counter Church would refer to it as the ‘believing Mohammedan power.’ And Pope Benedict XIV in Quod Provinciale.
You said the two heresies that are in Nostra Aetate 3 are 1) Islam is esteemed, and 2) that it’s talking about true worship. Let me deal with the first one: Islam is esteemed. It’s not a heresy to esteem a people for believing in one God. If we’re talking about – and this is the problem with this issue – if we’re talking about the Islamic religion, in the fine details of what they believe, yes, there are certain things that we would have to repudiate as Catholics. We just cannot accept them whatsoever. But that’s not what Nostra Aetate 3 is dealing with. It’s dealing with the areas in which the Islamic faith and the Catholic faith have a common ground, and that is in the fact that they worship one God. So, that’s what’s being esteemed by the Catholic Church. They’re not esteeming the fact that Christ is not God in the Islamic faith. They are not esteeming any other errors in the Islamic faith, so that distinction has to be made here. The second area you say was that it was talking about true worship, and again, I’ll say for the third time, the word true is not used here. If it was, you would have a point, but it’s not used, so it’s not saying that the Muslims have true worship, because true worship is only found in the Catholic Church. You talked about Benedict XVI, and his saying that he referred to the esteem of Nostra Aetate 3 for the Muslims. Yeah, and I would agree with that. He’s just quoting out of Nostra Aetate 3; but again, the error comes when he encourages them to have their feast of Ramadan, as I said. You talked about different popes, and you’ve put these statements side by side. Yes, they would be different. The reason they are different is because they’re talking about different things. These are different contexts, and those contexts have to be taken into account when we analyze what’s being said. The issue here is not the differences in what popes have said about the Islamic faith in history, but the issue is whether Nostra Aetate 3 has heretical statements.
BRO. PETER DIMOND
You said it’s not heresy to esteem a people. Well, as I’ve discussed, it’s not just esteeming a people, it’s not just esteeming certain people. It’s esteeming fides Islamica, as it mentions in context. It’s esteeming their worship: “they adore God who has spoken to humanity”; and, your own antipopes repeatedly refer to this passage and say that it’s not just saying some nice things about some of the people: it’s esteeming their religion. I’ll quote it again, since these are so important.
Benedict XVI, December 22nd, 2006: “my respect for the Islamic religion, a respect, moreover, which the Second Vatican Council (declaration Nostra Aetate #3) pointed out to us as an attitude that is only right.”
Here’s another one. Catechesis, August 24th, 2005: “Nostra Aetate, which has ushered in a new season of dialogue… as well as esteem for the other great religious traditions. Islam occupies a special place among them.”
That is overwhelming evidence that what I’m saying about this passage is correct. And you say that it’s not esteeming that Christ is not God, that idea. Well, in the very passage it esteems Muslims; it esteems fides Islamica, and it mentions that they don’t accept Christ as God. So actually, in context, it is also esteeming their belief that Christ is not God because it even praises how they revere Him as a prophet, even though they don’t accept Him as God. That’s also blasphemous. And then we have all of the actions of the antipopes since Vatican II. And obviously this is a debate about Vatican II’s teaching on the Muslims, so I’m not going to quote Benedict XVI’s countless heresies on other topics, but what they say about Islam is directly relevant because they draw on Vatican II for it. John Paul II kissed the Koran; he encouraged the spread of Islamic culture. Benedict XVI called the Koran a “holy book of a great religion.” He has prayed in a mosque toward Mecca like the Muslims. All of this stemming from the apostasy in Vatican II.
You said that Nostra Aetate 3 esteems fides Islamica. It doesn’t. It doesn’t say that. The only time it uses the word esteem is when it refers to the Muslims. It is not saying that it esteems the religion of Islam. It uses fides Islamica in a certain context, and that’s to link itself with Abraham. Twice Nostra Aetate talks about the Muslims. Once it talks about the faith of Islam, and the faith of Islam is not esteemed. It’s not called true worship. The only thing that is being esteemed here is that the Muslims adore the one God. That distinction has to be made. And the reason for that distinction, and why it has to be made is the same thing that we covered with Paul in Acts chapter 17 with the Athenians. Why could Paul walk among their idols and say to them, “I believe you are very religious people”? Well, they’re very religious people because that’s what Paul saw. It was misguided worship, but they were still very religious in Paul’s mind, so we can see the same thing in the Muslims. We don’t have to say that they have true worship, but we can esteem them because they search for the one God, and from that belief in the one God, they have certain morals, certain code of ethics that they live by. We can respect that. We’re not respecting the Islamic religion in all the details that it has, and all the errors that it has. That distinction has to be made. Now, again you talked about John Paul II kissing the Koran. I could add here that he said he wanted John the Baptist to bless Islam. Now, I would be the first one to admit that these were all errors. These are things that Vatican II did not say. People have taken, and this was the problem with the last 45 years of post-Vatican II theology, because of the ambiguities in Vatican II, it has been made to say things that it never taught.
BRO. PETER DIMOND
You say, “well, it doesn’t esteem fides Islamica.” In context, it does because it’s esteeming Muslims corporately, all the Muslims. It doesn’t say a certain one. It says all of them, in view of their religious practices. And in that context it refers to fides Islamica: their worship, their fasts, their alms, etc. It’s esteeming the Muslims and your own authorities, in an array of quotations I’ve given and we have, agree with me on this point and contradict you. Also, you made reference to Acts chapter 17, ‘very religious.’ Well, as I just mentioned earlier, Jerome uses ‘superstitious,’ and Gregory of Nyssa says they were ‘mad with their idolatry.’ They were not saying that they engage in true worship. It’s also interesting to consider that this heresy also denies the dogma that there’s only one true religion, which was defined by Pope Pius VIII in Traditi Humilitati. He says: heresies such as that there’s not one true religion, and he explains that; and it [Vatican II] denies it because if a false religion is worthy of esteem, as this passage in Nostra Aetate teaches, then logically there’s more than one true religion; there’s more than one religion worthy of respect. So, it clearly and directly denies two dogmas, and it also denies that dogma by extension. And I cited St. Thomas Aquinas earlier who explains that “something can be of faith directly and principally… and also indirectly and secondarily, those matters, the denial of which leads to the corruption of some article of faith; and there may be heresy in either way, even as there can be faith.” Heresy can also be manifested by deed, and therefore when something’s heretical by deed, it doesn’t have to be a word-for-word denial. It has to be an action that signifies a denial of a dogma. That’s why St. Thomas says worshipping at the tomb of Mohammed would be apostasy because it would be equivalent to saying Islam is true. So is Nostra Aetate’s teaching.
You made the point that the esteem is for all of them, all of the Muslims. The context of that statement, however, is because of their belief in one God. It is not because of all that the Islamic religion believes. Those specific points made by Nostra Aetate about the one God, and why the Church is trying to find this commonality, must be at the forefront of this discussion; otherwise we can go off in all kinds of directions, thinking that Nostra Aetate is referring to this or that or the other thing, as you have done with the word, ‘true worship,’ or the phrase, ‘true worship,’ but it’s not there. So we can’t read into this passage what we want to see. We have to see it for what it says; it says they esteem the Muslims because they adore the one God. Now you used the example of Jerome, who translated Acts 17:22 or 25 as superstitious. Well, this is just a translation. Jerome was not inspired to give that translation. Jerome made a lot of mistakes in his Latin Vulgate. He translated the bread of the Lord’s prayer supersubstantialem. That’s been found out to be a wrong translation because in Luke he translates it with another word. So, the Greek is what was inspired at Acts 17, and that’s the word that means ‘very religious.’ It doesn’t have any connotation whatsoever of being superstitious. Now you said that Acts 17 does not say ‘true worship,’ and that’s correct; and I never said it did say ‘true worship.’ I used the Greek word, and I said what it meant; it said that they were ‘very religious.’ I didn’t say that they were giving true worship to this unknown God, or to the pagan idols that they had across the field that Paul was walking through. That’s exactly why Paul is talking to them. If they had given true worship then he wouldn’t be there in the first place because he wouldn’t have any need to be there. The fact is that they are very religious people and he wants to steer them in the right direction.
ROBERT SUNGENIS – CLOSING STATEMENT
What we’ve seen here is that Nostra Aetate 3 says certain things about the Muslim faith that are in common with the Catholic faith. One is that they adore one God, and they obey that God as Creator of Heaven and Earth, and from that obedience, they live a moral life. From that moral life we can have mutual understanding and social justice and moral welfare, as well as peace and freedom. That is the context of Nostra Aetate 3. It is going no further than that. These are two very short paragraphs that do not get into the details of the Islamic faith. It does not get into the other aspects of what the Catholic Church has taught about the Islamic faith. Those are well and good. They are not to be denied, those other teachings. Whether they will determine whether Nostra Aetate 3 is heretical or not has not been proven tonight because there is no heretical statement in Nostra Aetate 3. What Nostra Aetate 3 is basically doing is making statements of fact about what the Muslim people practice in their faith. From those statements of fact, we can find areas of commonality with them, and from that hopefully we can live in peace with one another. It doesn’t mean that the Muslims are saved by what they believe. It doesn’t mean that they are any closer to God than Catholics are. It doesn’t mean that 90% of what they say in their religion is true. All Nostra Aetate 3 is saying is that in these specific areas there’s commonality, and from that commonality we can make moves to have a peace and freedom on Earth. And that’s basically what Paul had described or had prescribed for us to do in Romans 12: to live in peace with all men. This is what Nostra Aetate is seeking for because there have been times where Christians and Muslims have held the sword against one another, and killed one another. That’s not the way to go either. Granted, we both have different beliefs; but if those beliefs end up where we kill each other, then something is wrong. So, what we need to do is have a base from which to have an agreement to live in peace with one another, even though we disagree with one another on major doctrines of our faith. And the way we can do this is by seeking areas where we have one understanding, and from that respect each other, and go live in peace in our separate areas of the world. This does not mean, however, as I said before, that the Catholic Church does not have the responsibility to preach the Gospel to the Muslims. As a matter of fact, Nostra Aetate 3 uses its paragraphs as a spring board for the Catholic Church to go preach the Gospel to the Muslims. The error comes in when Nostra Aetate 3 is interpreted to mean that the Muslims have their own way of salvation, and we don’t need to preach the Gospel to them.
BRO. PETER DIMOND – CLOSING STATEMENT
Before I conclude, responding to Acts 17: you admit that someone who does not worship the Triune God of Christianity does not worship the true God, and so your own position is that the people in Acts 17 are not worshipping the True God. So, making reference to it is really pointless. You also wouldn’t say that it’s esteeming their false worship, so it has no bearing on this. Furthermore, as Pope Pius VIII says, “No one might twist the scriptures to his own opinion, or to an opinion contrary to that of the Church or the popes.” I also quoted Gregory of Nyssa, who said they were “mad with their idolatry.”
But, in conclusion, I would point out a number of things. I’ve demonstrated that Nostra Aetate #3 esteems fides Islamica, the Islamic faith. It esteems Muslims corporately and in view of their religious practices. I’ve demonstrated that such an assertion directly denies the dogma taught by the Church and declared by Pope Leo XII, that God does not approve or esteem false sects. It also denies many Papal and Magisterial statements that Islam is a diabolical, abominable, sacrilegious and false sect that God does not esteem but rather abhors. I also demonstrated that Benedict XVI, Paul VI, etc. they refer to Vatican II, and Benedict XVI specifically refers to this passage in Nostra Aetate #3, and admits that it teaches esteem for the Islamic faith, the Islamic religion, directly contradicting my opponent; and he does it multiple times. Therefore, his own authorities prove his assertion in defense of Vatican II, incorrect. In fact, there are more statements, as I mentioned earlier, from Benedict XVI on Nostra Aetate #3 which prove my position in this debate, than we have from the true popes who confirmed the councils of Nicea, Ephesus and Nicea II. I also quoted Paul VI and John Paul II who repeatedly taught that the Church esteems non-Christian religions such as Islam, and they base their heresy on Vatican II. If they were popes, which, thank God, they were not, their array of teaching on this point would absolutely constitute the binding teaching of the Magisterium. That serves to prove that they do not hold the authority of the Magisterium, and were not true popes. I’ve also proven that Nostra Aetate #3 is false and heretical because it denies the dogma that it is not possible to worship God truly except in the Catholic faith. This dogma was declared by Gregory XVI, and it has always been taught in the Church. Nostra Aetate denies this dogma by teaching that Muslims adore the true God, the one God who has spoken to humanity. It esteems them and their worship. And on this point as well the Vatican II antipopes, Robert Sungenis’ authorities, repeatedly declare that the Muslims’ worship of God is true, and that this idea is based on Vatican II. Hence, they teach that the Muslims truly worship God, which is a denial of the aforementioned dogma. Therefore, in more ways than one, I’ve clearly proven the affirmative in this debate, that Vatican II’s teaching in Nostra Aetate 3 is false, heretical and contrary to the teaching of the Catholic Church. Vatican II esteems fides Islamica, and it also denies the dogma that the true worship of God is unique to the Catholic religion.
END OF DEBATE
FOR THOSE IT MIGHT INTEREST, THIS IS AN INTERESTING E-MAIL WE RECEIVED AFTER THE DEBATE FROM A GREEK EXPERT, CONCERNING THE ERROR MADE BY SUNGENIS AND OTHERS ON ACTS 17:22 (AN ERROR WHICH WE CONTRADICTED DURING THE DEBATE)
Subject: Debate with Robert Sungenis
Dear Brother Peter,
What an excellent debate with Robert Sungenis! And you were absolutely right to correct him regarding Acts 17.22. Here he fell into the same error as William Albrecht, repeatedly mistranslating the Greek adjective deisidaimonesterous as “religious”. This is disappointing as he possesses a far better understanding of Ancient Greek than the latter, who, as you have rightly pointed out, is a phony Greek “scholar”.
It is clear that, when St Paul called the Athenians deisidaimonesterous (Ac 17.22), he was reprimanding them, with mild irony, for the scrupulosity with which they attempted to appease their pagan gods. St Jerome, whose understanding of Koine Greek, was vastly superior to that of Mr Sungenis, picked up the tone perfectly with his Latin translation superstitiosiores. Even the New Vulgate promulgated by Antipope John Paul II fully endorses St Jerome’s translation, so Sungenis is out on a limb here.
If Sungenis were faithful to the significance of a Greek comparative, he would have to translate deisidaimonesterous not as “religious” but as either “too religious” or “rather/somewhat religious”. But neither translation would serve him well, for St Paul would hardly recommend the Athenians to practise religion less (!), nor would he describe them as “rather religious” and then immediately proceed to upbraid them for their ignorance and idolatry, two vices entirely contrary to the virtue of religion.
No. The underlying adjective deisidaimon derives from deido (I fear) and daimon (a pagan supernatural spirit), so its fundamental meaning is spirit-fearing, hence superstitious. A good English translation for deisidaimonesterous would therefore be “rather superstitious”.
It is intriguing, not to say disquieting, that men like Sungenis, Albrecht, and even Fr Maximilian Zerwick SJ (who treats the word as an elative superlative meaning “most pious”!) commit this woeful exegetical mistake. Why do they do it? I can only think that the powers of evil are ultimately at work here. They want Catholics to praise pagans for their worship of demons and to view such idolatry as a praiseworthy and perhaps even logical step on the road towards the worship of Almighty God.