Post Author: Bill Pratt
Between AD 1258 and 1264, Thomas Aquinas wrote Summa contra Gentiles, a book at least partially aimed at arguing for the truth of Christianity against the falsehood of Islam. Recall that Islam was founded and spread in the seventh century, about 600 years before Thomas wrote.
In an interesting section of book I, Thomas argues that the veracity of the miracle accounts in the Bible are supported by the successful spread of Christianity around the world. In essence, he is saying, “How else could Christianity be so successful unless the miracle accounts were true?” Here is Thomas in his own words:
This wonderful conversion of the world to the Christian faith is the clearest witness of the signs given in the past; so that it is not necessary that they should be further repeated, since they appear most clearly in their effect. For it would be truly more wonderful than all signs if the world had been led by simple and humble men to believe such lofty truths, to accomplish such difficult actions, and to have such high hopes. Yet it is also a fact that, even in our own time, God does not cease to work miracles through His saints for the confirmation of the faith.
Thomas points out that given the humble roots of Christianity, it would be more miraculous for the religion to have spread without miracles than with them. The miracles of Jesus and his apostles provide a reason for the initial spread of Christianity.
Thomas then goes on to differentiate the success of Christianity with the success of Islam. He argues that Muhammad offered no miracles to prove he was from God, and that his sole appeal was based on the carnal pleasures he offered his followers, including military power. Here again is Thomas:
On the other hand, those who founded sects committed to erroneous doctrines proceeded in a way that is opposite to this, The point is clear in the case of Muhammad. He seduced the people by promises of carnal pleasure to which the concupiscence of the flesh goads us. His teaching also contained precepts that were in conformity with his promises, and he gave free rein to carnal pleasure. In all this, as is not unexpected, he was obeyed by carnal men. As for proofs of the truth of his doctrine, he brought forward only such as could be grasped by the natural ability of anyone with a very modest wisdom. Indeed, the truths that he taught he mingled with many fables and with doctrines of the greatest falsity. He did not bring forth any signs produced in a supernatural way, which alone fittingly gives witness to divine inspiration; for a visible action that can be only divine reveals an invisibly inspired teacher of truth.
On the contrary, Muhammad said that he was sent in the power of his arms—which are signs not lacking even to robbers and tyrants. What is more, no wise men, men trained in things divine and human, believed in him from the beginning, Those who believed in him were brutal men and desert wanderers, utterly ignorant of all divine teaching, through whose numbers Muhammad forced others to become his followers by the violence of his arms.
Thomas makes some important distinctions between Islam and Christianity based on their respective beginnings. It is paramount for all of us to understand these differences as we increasingly dialogue with the world about Islam.