Islam as a Christian Heresy: 8 Quotes from St. John Damascene A.D. 749

“There is also the superstition of the Ishmaelites which to this day prevails and keeps people in error, being a forerunner of the Antichrist.”

Muhammad in hell for heresy. - William Blake’s Watercolor of Canto XXVIII (Lines 30 and 31 of Inferno, the First Part of Dante Alighieri’s Epic Poem the Divine Comedy). -  University of Chicago

Listers in one of the earliest polemics against Islam, the “superstition of the Ishmaelites” was viewed as a heresy of Christianity. In his  work The Fount of Knowledge, St. John Damascene (c. 675 or 676 – 4 December 749) gifts the Church with one of the earliest summa theologicas. He is considered the last of the great Early Church Fathers and it would be difficult to exaggerate his influence on the Christian East. He is also esteemed in the Western Church as a forerunner to the scholastics and is considered by some as the first scholastic. St. John Damascene is best known for his fight against iconoclasm.1

 

The Fount of Knowledge is divided into three categories:

  1. “Philosophical Chapters” (Kephalaia philosophika) – “With the exception of the fifteen chapters that deal exclusively with logic, it has mostly to do with the ontology of Aristotle. It is largely a summary of the Categories of Aristotle with Porphyry’s “Isagoge” (Eisagoge eis tas kategorias). It seems to have been John Damascene’s purpose to give his readers only such philosophical knowledge as was necessary for understanding the subsequent parts of the “Fountain of Wisdom”.
  2. “Concerning Heresy” (Peri aipeseon) – “Little more than a copy of a similar work by Epiphanius, brought up to date by John Damascene. The author indeed expressly disclaims originality except in the chapters devoted to Islamism, Iconoclasm, and Aposchitae. To the list of eighty heresies that constitute the “Panarion” of Epiphanius, he added twenty heresies that had sprung up since his time. In treating of Islamism he vigorously assails the immoral practices of Mohammed and the corrupt teachings inserted in the Koran to legalize the delinquencies of the prophet.”
  3. “An Exact Exposition of the Orthodox Faith” (Ikdosis akribes tes orthodoxou pisteos) – “The third book of the “Fountain of Wisdom”, is the most important of John Damascene’s writings and one of the most notable works of Christian antiquity. Its authority has always been great among the theologians of the East and West. Here, again, the author modestly disavows any claim of originality — any purpose to essay a new exposition of doctrinal truth. He assigns himself the less pretentious task of collecting in a single work the opinions of the ancient writers scattered through many volumes, and of systematizing and connecting them in a logical whole.2

 

In his passage on Concerning Heresies, his section on the superstition of the Ishmaelites is considerably longer than most. One reason for this attention could be his prolonged battles against iconoclasm, in which the influence of Islam was a significant factor. The following are selected sections from his passage on Islam.

 

Another depiction of Muhammad in hell for the sin of heresy. He is rendering his body as he rendered the Body of Christ. MS. Holkham misc. 48, p. 42, Bodleian Library in Oxford, England.
Another depiction of Muhammad in hell for the sin of heresy. He is rendering his body as he rendered the Body of Christ. MS. Holkham misc. 48, p. 42, Bodleian Library in Oxford, England.

 

1. Muhammed devised his own heresy

“There is also the superstition of the Ishmaelites which to this day prevails and keeps people in error, being a forerunner of the Antichrist. They are descended from Ishmael, [who] was born to Abraham of Agar, and for this reason they are called both Agarenes and Ishmaelites… From that time to the present a false prophet named Mohammed has appeared in their midst. This man, after having chanced upon the Old and New Testaments and likewise, it seems, having conversed with an Arian monk, devised his own heresy. Then, having insinuated himself into the good graces of the people by a show of seeming piety, he gave out that a certain book had been sent down to him from heaven. He had set down some ridiculous compositions in this book of his and he gave it to them as an object of veneration.”

 

2. Christ’s shadow was crucified

“He says that there is one God, creator of all things, who has neither been begotten nor has begotten. He says that the Christ is the Word of God and His Spirit, but a creature and a servant, and that He was begotten, without seed, of Mary the sister of Moses and Aaron. For, he says, the Word and God and the Spirit entered into Mary and she brought forth Jesus, who was a prophet and servant of God. And he says that the Jews wanted to crucify Him in violation of the law, and that they seized His shadow and crucified this. But the Christ Himself was not crucified, he says, nor did He die, for God out of His love for Him took Him to Himself into heaven.”

 

3. Christ denied saying, “I am the Son of God and God.”

“And he says this, that when the Christ had ascended into heaven God asked Him: ‘O Jesus, didst thou say: “I am the Son of God and God”?’ And Jesus, he says, answered: ‘Be merciful to me, Lord. Thou knowest that I did not say this and that I did not scorn to be thy servant. But sinful men have written that I made this statement, and they have lied about me and have fallen into error.’ And God answered and said to Him: ‘I know that thou didst not say this word.” There are many other extraordinary and quite ridiculous things in this book which he boasts was sent down to him from God.”

 

4. Where did Scripture foretell Muhammad?

“But when we ask: ‘And who is there to testify that God gave him the book? And which of the prophets foretold that such a prophet would rise up?’—they are at a loss. And we remark that Moses received the Law on Mount Sinai, with God appearing in the sight of all the people in cloud, and fire, and darkness, and storm. And we say that all the Prophets from Moses on down foretold the coming of Christ and how Christ God (and incarnate Son of God) was to come and to be crucified and die and rise again, and how He was to be the judge of the living and dead. Then, when we say: ‘How is it that this prophet of yours did not come in the same way, with others bearing witness to him? And how is it that God did not in your presence present this man with the book to which you refer, even as He gave the Law to Moses, with the people looking on and the mountain smoking, so that you, too, might have certainty?’—they answer that God does as He pleases.”

 

5. Where are the witnesses?

“When we ask again: ‘How is it that when he enjoined us in this book of yours not to do anything or receive anything without witnesses, you did not ask him: “First do you show us by witnesses that you are a prophet and that you have come from God, and show us just what Scriptures there are that testify about you”’—they are ashamed and remain silent.”

 

6. What do the Muslims call Christians?

“Moreover, they call us Hetaeriasts, or Associators, because, they say, we introduce an associate with God by declaring Christ to the Son of God and God… And again we say to them: ‘As long as you say that Christ is the Word of God and Spirit, why do you accuse us of being Hetaeriasts? For the word, and the spirit, is inseparable from that in which it naturally has existence. Therefore, if the Word of God is in God, then it is obvious that He is God. If, however, He is outside of God, then, according to you, God is without word and without spirit. Consequently, by avoiding the introduction of an associate with God you have mutilated Him. It would be far better for you to say that He has an associate than to mutilate Him, as if you were dealing with a stone or a piece of wood or some other inanimate object. Thus, you speak untruly when you call us Hetaeriasts; we retort by calling you Mutilators of God.’”

 

7. On Women

“As has been related, this Mohammed wrote many ridiculous books, to each one of which he set a title. For example, there is the book On Woman, in which he plainly makes legal provision for taking four wives and, if it be possible, a thousand concubines—as many as one can maintain, besides the four wives. He also made it legal to put away whichever wife one might wish, and, should one so wish, to take to oneself another in the same way. Mohammed had a friend named Zeid. This man had a beautiful wife with whom Mohammed fell in love. Once, when they were sitting together, Mohammed said: ‘Oh, by the way, God has commanded me to take your wife.’ The other answered: ‘You are an apostle. Do as God has told you and take my wife.’

 

As shown by the artwork above, the Middle Ages also viewed Islam has a heresy. In Dante’s Inferno, Canto XXVIII, Muhammad is depicted as “twixt the legs, Dangling his entrails hung, the midriff lay Open to view…” Muhammad suffers the punishment of the schismatics: having his body rent from chin to anus for how he rent the Body of Christ. The great Catholic thinker Hilarie Belloc (1870-1953) is also known for his treatise on Islam as The Great and Enduring Heresy of Mohammed.

  1. Fount of Knowledge: A digital download of Catholic University of America’s translation is available (here) and an except may be viewed online (here). Furthermore, a larger excerpt on Islam from Fount of Knowledge may be read on an Orthodox website (here). Another translation is available in its entirety online, but SPL is unfamiliar with the translation (here). []
  2. St. John Damascene Information: Biographical information and the structure of the Fountain of Wisdom is adapted from the Catholic Encyclopedia article. []
  • George Kadlec

    The truth is the truth.

  • John Damascene’s analysis is riddled with errors. For example, he gets the Prophet Muhammad wrong when he claims he said that ‘the Jews wanted to crucify Him in violation of the law, and that they seized His shadow and crucified this.’

    Islam has never taught ‘a shallow was crucified’ lol

    I shudder to think he is a Doctor of the Church

    • poverello

      Gosh, Paul, I did about five minutes of research and came up with this from the quran, quotation from that book 4:157…

      And [for] their saying, “Indeed, we have killed the Messiah, Jesus, the son of Mary, the messenger of Allah .” And they did not kill him, nor did they crucify him; but [another] was made to resemble him to them. And indeed, those who differ over it are in doubt about it. They have no knowledge of it except the following of assumption. And they did not kill him, for certain.

      St. John was contesting Muhammad’s ridiculous Arianist contention that only the appearance of Jesus was crucified, not the actual body of Jesus. To use your adolescent expression…LOL. And I doubt Holy Mother Church is rethinking its declaration of the Damascene as a Holy Doctor because of an attack from online guy who can’t even review his own opinions for spelling (‘a shallow was crucified’). Geez man.

      • Lazarus

        Poverello, well done sir. Paul, you need to retract you statement.

    • sghshshs

      Paul you retard, ‘shadow’ can be symbolic. Besides many muslim sects contest different versions, so his source, the muslim who told him this, might have said what he believed.

    • Najib Nasr

      Almost a year later, I stumbled on your comment. I think, Brother Paul, that you need to investigate further before you can make an assessment as you did in your last sentence. You know, the Catholic Church is the “pillar and foundation of truth” (1 Timothy 3:15). Actually, every time you come across the word “church” in the Bible, you are referring to the Catholic Church, because she was the only church around for a thousand years. (All other entities were heretical, etc.)

      To explain further, St. Ignatius of Antioch was the first on record to call the Church, the catholic Church. Since he was the disciple of John and was ordained to the See of Antioch by Peter, and since he lived concurrently with John for a third of a century, he knew what he was talking about and is to be considered an Apostolic man, just like Timothy and Titus. He was not mentioned in the Bible, simply because God picked on Paul to write about his travels. He neither chose Peter nor did he choose John for that.

      So, Peter was Catholic, even before the term was applied to him, and John was Catholic, even before the term was applied to him, just like Peter and John are considered Christians, even before the term was first applied to them in Antioch (Acts 11:26). Now, if anybody does not like the capital ‘C’ in ‘Catholic,’ grammar demands it, being the only church around for a thousand years, as I mentioned earlier.

      Of course, we can address certain matters that the faithful do not seem to know or realize, otherwise, because she is the pillar and foundation of truth, and because she has never been in error on any Faith and Morals issue in the past two thousand years, I have counseled myself to refrain from speaking negatively concerning the Church, following Paul’s advice of building up and not tearing down (2 Corinthians 10:8). God bless.

  • You have a nice line in patronising, oh so superior, attitude.

    I was right:

    ‘John Damascene’s analysis is riddled with errors. For example, he gets the Prophet Muhammad wrong when he claims he said that ‘the Jews wanted to crucify Him in violation of the law, and that they seized His shadow and crucified this.

    No shadow being crucified is ever mentioned in the Quran. You have failed to supply a quotation.

    You need to realise the Quran is only the Quran in the original Arabic. You quote from a bad English translation which supplies words not found in the Arabic: ‘but [another] was made to resemble him to them’. These words are an interpolation.

    Yusuf Ali’s translation is more accurate:

    That they said (in boast), “We killed Christ Jesus the son of Mary, the Messenger of Allah”;- but they killed him not, nor crucified him, but so it was made to appear to them, and those who differ therein are full of doubts, with no (certain) knowledge, but only conjecture to follow, for of a surety they killed him not:-

    I see you are as ill informed as your ‘Doctor’

    PAX

    • Tim

      Paul you’ve shown yourself to be a bad combination of arrogant and ignorant. Perhaps a bit of thinking rather than conjecturing would help you out. Even taking your translation to be “more accurate” you have to consider the translation St. John Damascene used before declaring his point meritless. Further you should consider the deeper meaning of the very definition you espouse because it claims the same thing: ‘that it was not Christ who was killed but rather it was made to appear so.’

      Oh and I love how you talk about others being patronizing while giving us a perfect example of just what that looks like. “LOL”? “I see you are as ill informed as your ‘Doctor'”? Please!

  • God hates arrogance. “He has scattered the proud in their conceit”. Where’s the list for this? There is no pride in heaven. We must be humble and obedient. Pax, k.

  • Jon

    You’re mistaken in one particular. Dante puts Muhammed and Ali in the Circle of the Schismatics, not that of Heretics. The angel slashes at the damned schismatics to symbolize their tearing of the Body of Christ. Meanwhile, quite a few levels higher up, the heretics are interred alive in flaming coffins. Islam is a heresy, and a recrudescence of Arianism as well as a weird forerunner of feminism (which also denies the incarnation), but is reckoned a schism in the Inferno.

    • You are correct. The article focuses on St. John Damascene’s critique of Islam as a heresy, but the artwork is from The Inferno. Dante does make a clear distinction between the punishment for schismatics and the punishment for heretics. See the last paragraph of the article:

      “In Dante’s Inferno, Canto XXVIII, Muhammad is depicted as “twixt the legs, Dangling his entrails hung, the midriff lay Open to view…” Muhammad suffers the punishment of the schismatics: having his body rent from chin to anus for how he rent the Body of Christ.”

      Thanks for the important distinction, I’ll clarify the point in the descriptions of the artwork.

  • Nic

    Katherine, Can you provide chapter and verse for this, please? Thank you.

  • Phil

    The parallel with Mormonism is striking.

  • Andrew Herbst

    Paul you speak negatively about about St John of Damascus???? What a joke your “prophet” was an illiterate fraud, you just don’t like the Truth….. instead of acting like a chic on the sideline, come play ball….. St John calls you a mutilator of God…… Tell us Saul, is the Word eternal? The toilet paper you call “Koran” says yes, it also says Christ is the Word….. So your “prophet” accidentally calls Christ eternal !!!!

  • HARRY

    Hi
    i don’t remember any Jew or Roman calling Jesus “The messenger of Allah”

  • Nikolastein Tesla

    1 john 5:7

    The most spurious verse in the history of literature and deceived the whole mankind and change the course of history. Your doctor is he himself so sick. I challenge to all of u if u can find fault in the Qur’an.

    If you are not hiding somth, release all the archived books in the vatican. If . are of truth, release all if u have no fear of total failure of christianity

  • Jozef

    Paul’s writings are just one step above a troll. He’s not a troll, b/c he’s being sincere in his defense of Muhammadanism, but the content is utterly time-wasting.

  • Ibn Ishaq

    Paul, Muhammad believed he was possessed by demonic jinn and wanted to commit suicide. The only person who “validated” his “prophethood” was his old wife Khadijah. Muhammad cried to his wife in desperation that he was possessed by demonic spirits and wanted to kill himself.

    Khadijah sat Muhammad on her lap and took her clothes and asked Muhammad if he still saw the demon that plagued him, and he said no. Khadijah, his wife, DECLARED HIM A PROPHET OF GOD because only a demon would stay around to look at her naked body, not an angel, and that is how Muhammad became a prophet.

    1. His wife, as a good wife, was desperate to stop her husband from going insane and trying to kill himself. So she could’ve easily lied to him to stop him from his demonic tormenting.

    2. There is no one else who validated Muhammad’s prophethood, but that was his test.

    3. spirits good AND BAD have seen naked humans. So that was a stupid test, Khadijha undressing herself, since angels/demons see naked people all the time.

    4. Maybe Muhammad was right in the 1st place. In his biography his own nurse maid thought Muhammad was demon possessed.

  • Mary

    To Paul

    Why don’t you watch and truly observe what Islam truly is?
    Coming out of the mouths of those raised in Islam

    Through an examination of the Koran, other Islamic texts and the example of the prophet Muhammad, this documentary argues, through a sober and methodical presentation, that violence against non-Muslims is and has always been an integral aspect of Islam.

  • garegin

    The theory that (at least) some Muslims contemporary to John of Damascus believed in the shadow theory of crucifixion is actually pretty realistic. If the writer of the Quran intended the swoon or the substitution scenario he would’ve just said it. It is highly likely that what he had in mind was a mass hallucination of the crucifiers.