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Joe Vince wrote:

Hi, guys —

  • Exactly how much of the Vatican II document, Lumen Gentium, is binding on the faithful?

I know a document can't be infallible. I'm concerned about a couple references to Muslims. It seems to me that the majority opinion of saints and popes believed that Islam is evil . . . many even using the word anti-Christ, yet in Lumen Gentium, they claim it's an Abrahamic faith and that we worship the same God.

Please give me your thoughts.

Joe Vince

  { In view of these Muslim remarks, how much of the Vatican II's Lumen Gentium, is binding on us? }

Eric replied:

Hi, Joe —

Let's look at what Lumen Gentium actually says.

"In the first place amongst these there are the Muslims, who, professing to hold the faith of Abraham, along with us adore the one and merciful God, who on the last day will judge mankind." (# 16)

Note that this does not say Islam is good or deny that it is in error. It doesn't even say that Islam is Abrahamic, nor does it even say that Muslims hold the faith of Abraham.

It says that they profess to hold the faith of Abraham, which is a very different thing. They believe that they do, but we know the reality is different. It does say that they adore the one and merciful God, but this is nothing new; Pope St. Gregory VII said as much (Letter III, 21 to Anazir [Al-Nasir], King of Mauretania PL, 148.451A.). Note also that the statement does not address Islam as a religion at all; it addresses Muslims. This is key. It is not commenting on Islam as a religion but referring to individual Muslims. Thus it avoids endorsing Islam in any way as good as a religion.

Note that while Muslims are in profound error concerning the nature of God (as are the Jews), they intend to worship the same God that we do, the God of Abraham. If you don't believe Muslims worship the same God we do because of their radically different conception of God, you may as well conclude that the Jews don't, either. I don't think that's tenable, so I conclude that they intend to worship the same God we do. And I think that God is merciful enough to accept their prayers despite their profound errors about his attributes.


Joe replied:

Wow that's a great answer.

Thank you much . . . such a quick follow up.

  • So is Lumen Gentium binding on the faithful then? and
  • Why is it called a Dogmatic Constitution?

God Bless,

— Joe

Eric replied:


I'm deliberately sidestepping the issue of whether Lumen Gentium is binding because I want to focus on the meaning of the text, which I think is more important (and much easier to explain).

Let's put it this way; I don't think that arguing that the (SVC) Second Vatican Council is not technically infallible is an effective way to dissent from it. If you have an issue with it, you need to wrestle with it. Whole schisms hinge on this question.

It's called a Dogmatic Constitution because it carries more weight than the pastoral constitutions, and deals with more doctrinal matters rather than implementation issues (like pastoral questions). Maybe one of my colleagues can explain it better.

Thanks for the compliment!


Joe replied:

Great reply Eric.

I'm a Secular Franciscan and we are going over the SVC and quite honestly, it's extremely difficult to get straight answers from the Church on many of the documents.

While I personally find some of the statements ambiguous and contradictory, I have to believe the gates of Hell will not prevail against the Church.


Eric replied:

Joe —

Keep in mind that the documents are not written by a single person but are products of all the bishops, and there is going to be some give and take and some compromises on language to satisfy conflicting views. This is true for any conciliar document. They are human documents, even when they are protected from error. Even Scripture is at times ambiguous and hard to understand (cf. 2 Peter 3:16).

Often the Church deliberately leaves certain matters open to varying interpretations. It's not the Church's goal to nail down every detail of every mystery of the faith in a certain, exact fashion, but to lay down boundaries within which there is flexibility to roam to one degree or another.

There are other reasons why documents are not exact and unambiguous (besides the fact that, frankly, it's nearly impossible to write unambiguously: look at the documents and contracts that attorneys write). It is because it is the Church, Herself, who is the pillar and foundation of the truth (1 Timothy 3:15), not the written documents, that we know what they say is true. You can't take the written documents and run with them on your own and argue like a fundamentalist using them as proof texts. I'm not saying you are doing this, but there are those who would. Ultimately, they are to be understood and interpreted by the living Magisterium of the Church, and not divorced from that Living Voice.

The fact that the texts are ambiguous discourages people from interpreting them apart from the Living Voice of the Church or pre-empting the Church's judgment.

  • What's an example of an apparent contradiction that you find in the SVC?

Also, please use Reply All when replying to include the whole team on the discussion.


Paul replied:


All statements that are definitively defined by the pope and/or bishops in union with him, or have a logical or historical necessary relationship to it, are infallible.

The part of the Vatican II documents that speak of Muslims seem to be more pastoral and not definitively defined however it authoritatively provides for us an attitude toward images of God who have faulty doctrine.


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