Sunday, April 03, 2011

Of Gods and Men

The Trappist Martyrs of Atlas
The murder and martyrdom of Westerners and Christians taking place throughout parts of the Muslim world are always deeply disconcerting, especially when one considers how the recent flare ups have been provoked by fundamentalist Christian zealots who commit provocative acts in the name of Christ.  In contempt for the religious convictions of non-Christians they desecrate that which the others reverence.  Both sides seem to have their share of misguided extremists.
These days I have been thinking much about the Trappist martyrs of Atlas, the monks who were beheaded by terrorists in Algeria in the 1990's.  It is expected that these martyrs can act as special patrons to the Church in these days of bloody persecution, yet they also can be models and examples to individuals on how one ought to conduct oneself in the dark night of terrorism. 
I was delighted to find that Idle Speculations posted on the martyrs, linking to a Cistercian site containing the last testament by Dom Christian de Cherge, the superior of the group.  I will reprint Fr. Christian's testament here.
Last Testament of Christian de Cherge.
If it should happen one day - and it could be today -

that I become a victim of the terrorism which now seems ready to engulf

all the foreigners living in Algeria,

I would like my community, my Church and my family

to remember that my life was GIVEN to God and to this country.

I ask them to accept the fact that the One Master of all life

was not a stranger to this brutal departure.

I would ask them to pray for me:

for how could I be found worthy of such an offering?

I ask them to associate this death with so many other equally violent ones

which are forgotten through indifference or anonymity.

My life has no more value than any other.

Nor any less value.

In any case, it has not the innocence of childhood.

I have lived long enough to know that I am an accomplice in the evil

which seems to prevail so terribly in the world,

even in the evil which might blindly strike me down.

I should like, when the time comes, to have a moment of spiritual clarity

which would allow me to beg forgiveness of God

and of my fellow human beings,

and at the same time forgive with all my heart the one who would strike me down.

I could not desire such a death.

It seems to me important to state this.

I do not see, in fact, how I could rejoice

if the people I love were indiscriminately accused of my murder.

It would be too high a price to pay

for what will perhaps be called, the "grace of martyrdom"

to owe it to an Algerian, whoever he might be,

especially if he says he is acting in fidelity to what he believes to be Islam.

I am aware of the scorn which can be heaped on the Algerians indiscriminately.

I am also aware of the caricatures of Islam which a certain Islamism fosters.

It is too easy to soothe one's conscience

by identifying this religious way with the fundamentalist ideology of its extremists.

For me, Algeria and Islam are something different: it is a body and a soul.

I have proclaimed this often enough, I think, in the light of what I have received from it.

I so often find there that true strand of the Gospel

which I learned at my mother's knee, my very first Church,

precisely in Algeria, and already inspired with respect for Muslim believers.

Obviously, my death will appear to confirm

those who hastily judged me naïve or idealistic:

"Let him tell us now what he thinks of his ideals!"

But these persons should know that finally my most avid curiosity will be set free.

This is what I shall be able to do, God willing:

immerse my gaze in that of the Father

to contemplate with him His children of Islam

just as He sees them, all shining with the glory of Christ,

the fruit of His Passion, filled with the Gift of the Spirit

whose secret joy will always be to establish communion

and restore the likeness, playing with the differences.

For this life lost, totally mine and totally theirs,

I thank God, who seems to have willed it entirely

for the sake of that JOY in everything and in spite of everything.

In this THANK YOU, which is said for everything in my life from now on,

I certainly include you, friends of yesterday and today,

and you, my friends of this place,

along with my mother and father, my sisters and brothers and their families,

You are the hundredfold granted as was promised!

And also you, my last-minute friend, who will not have known what you were doing:

Yes, I want this THANK YOU and this GOODBYE to be a "GOD-BLESS" for you, too,

because in God's face I see yours.

May we meet again as happy thieves in Paradise, if it please God, the Father of us both.


Algiers, 1st December 1993

Tibhirine, 1st January 1994

Christian + 
The humble gird on strength...
Friends have asked me to see the film Of God's and Men, but it is Lent and I can wait for the DVD.  I have also read the book, How Far To Follow, an account of the Atlas martyrs.  I try to keep the message in my heart, but it is sometimes difficult when I think of the sufferings of those continually facing similar death sentences, and most especially after the recent killings in Afghanistan.  I don't believe I'm afraid of death or terrorism for myself, I actually look forward to dying one day.  What I fear the most is mortal sin and living in a state of sin - devoid of compassion and charity.
The Lord is my light and my help;
whom shall I fear?
The Lord is the stronghold of my life;
before whom shall I shrink? - Ps. 27

Photo:  Grave of Fr. Christian.  About 10 years ago now, a Trappist friend, Fr. Tom sent me sand from the martyr's graves.


  1. That pastor who burned the Koran cannot claim that his action had nothing to do with provocation.

    It reminds me: I asked Fr. Finigan once in his combox about the legitimacy of someone going to a certain place in which martyrdom is happening with the intent of being martyred. And he brought up how certain earlier Christians during times of persecution would deliberately smash public idols and so forth to provoke their own "martyrdom". Among the reasons it is wrong to do that, Father mentioned, was that it also provokes the murder of families not directly involved.

    And that pastor doesn't even have the noble-but-seriously-misguided excuse of wanting to be a martyr.

    But to be sure, maybe we are all guilty of something like what he has done on some lesser or more subtle level: he would claim he is exercising his freedom of speech, but he is not willing to accept the responsibility that goes with freedom.

    And we have all grabbed, snatched at a freedom which does the opposite, to ourselves and to others.

  2. Fr. Welzbacher of St. John's of St. Paul recommended the movie this morning and gave his parishioners a dispensation from the Lentan resolves.

    He said, and I agree, it is like going on a retreat.

    I don't condone the book burning but I abhor those who equate human lives with the symbolism of a book.

    And there are many other things that they do and believe that I abhor also.

    Those that pick and choose verses from the Koran to sanctify Muslims are just as bad as those who pick and choose verses from the Bible to burn books or defame other Christians.

  3. Wow! The bit about his "last-minute friend" was quite moving.

  4. A Random Friar9:50 PM

    It goes with little mention how many Bibles are burned (wit the recent controversy of using the word "Allah" in the Bible -- some claim it is the property of Islam alone).

    It goes with little mention in the UN have many innocent Christians have died just since the beginning of this millenium.

    And only Christians get lectures about tolerance.

    This is not to say that we should NOT be held to a higher standard, but that the Western world remaining silent and walking on eggshells with other faiths is indirectly supporting the countless deaths each day across the Muslim and Hindu worlds. Entire ancient seats of Christendom will fall within a decade. Such casualties are not the result of a "small" Muslim minority. Be it a minority, it is a -large- minority, one that has the means and motive to carry out genocide, and silence any moderate voices within their own fellow believers as traitors.

    How do we fight back? We don't. But we cannot be afraid to tell the truth. If we play the victim role, we are enabling the murderous thugs. Non-violence does not mean silence, not when others' lives are at stake. We may do so with our own, but we have no right to forfeit the innocent.

  5. Muslims do not view the Qur'an like we view the Bible. For Muslims, it is the WORD of God. The closest equivalent is that it is their Eucharist.

    It's wayyy more than a "book" thing.

    Not excusing murder, but I abhor stupidity, ignorance, and prejudice.

    Insha'Allah, amin.

  6. And the Muslim "word of god" condones jihad, slavery, killing apostates, killing Christians, slavery, polygamy, killing innocent people, who may or may not be Christians, because a wacko Christian 12,000 miles from them burned some paper.

    They can't have it both ways.

    They are at war with us and have been for 1,500 years.

    All Muslims are not bad; but bad Muslims are killing Christians who didn't do them any harm. And the "not bad Muslims" don't do anything about it because they know that if they tried to, they would get killed, too.

  7. Some interpreters of the Qur'an indeed claim that that is what it says, Ray. The same may be said of the Bible if the Hebrew Scriptures are read without context. Learned people of faith, Muslim and Christian, know better.

    Again, to them, it is more than "paper," the same as the Eucharist is more than "bread."

    Moreover, lots of "good Muslims" are indeed speaking up and denouncing violence. However, our media rarely covers this. I would suggest following Al-Jazeera (English).

  8. Innocent people are dying. And Al Jazeera employees whose daddy paid for them to go to Harvard are shocked; but they don't do anything about it because they know that they will get killed if they try.

  9. "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, 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."

    Nostra Aetate, 3

  10. A Random Friar6:47 AM

    The Holy Father has attempted to carry our Nostra Aetate 3 as well as he could. But true dialogue, where both sides lay out their cards on the table and see what the other believes and go from there, seems fraught with peril, as Regensburg showed.

    This does not mean that we should give up, but we should acknowledge that the current climate is fraught with danger, thanks to so much media and instant communication. Who would've heard of or cared about some pastor at a tiny Church doing something foolish?

  11. It is my opinion that the media is complicit in this whole affair.

  12. I think so too - the media is an active participant.

  13. "...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."

    As far as I can tell, only one side of the discussion - the Church - is honestly pursuing such mutual understanding.

    I think Hilaire Belloc had it right in claiming Islam as being one of the Great Heresies.

  14. Larry - I've always wondered if Islam isn't 'The' false prophet scripture speaks about? (Book of Revelation I think.)

  15. Terry - well, depending on who's talking, the 12th Imam is on his way right now!

  16. It's funny how when one really looks at the story of the respective prophets, Muhammad and Joseph Smith have about the same authority. The testimony of one dude who said God was taking to him, with no miracles to speak of except for the presence of a "miraculous" book.

    They both claimed to "complete" Christianity, and both seriously misinterpreted it.

  17. And Thom, the equation that for Muslims, the Qur'an is like the Eucharist is for us - that's actually a pretty good analogy. For them, that book is the divine Logos.

    This is also why the clear text of the Qur'an is irreformable, and why Muslim scholars say that the gates of ijtihad (interpreting the text in light of historic context). For orthodox Muslims, the Qur'an HAS no context, as it it is an eternal book in heaven. This always struck me as odd, since the "revelations" were obviously given / abrogated to fit in with Muhammad's circumstances.

    In the end, it's the persona Christi and the persona Mohammedis. No matter what kinds of crap Christians do and have done, they are always called to emulate Christ as the highest way of being. For Muslims, Muhammad is the example par excellance of humanity, and doing what he himself did is always morally right. That is problematic.

    And it's not because Muhammad was so evil compared to others (for an Arabian warlord, he wasn't a bad guy), but it's that he was human. ANY time a mere man is raised up as the eternal example for mankind will automatically mean his own sins ans shortcomings will be emulated.

  18. Islam as being one of the great heresies:

    They are mono-theists, but it isn't the same God, no matter what they say. They don't believe in the Holy Trinity, for starters.

  19. "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."

    But I'm sure ya'll know better than the Church, but it's funny because when I am at odds with something "official," I'm a "small c catholic."

  20. Protestants adore the same God too - doesn't mean they've got everything right.

    Muslims may adore the one true God, as the Church says, but it's the way in which they adore Him, and view their relationship to Him - as servants to a Master, rather than as children to a Father - that acts as a stumbling block.

    I think the Church considers those words as a starting point for dialogue and ecumenism.

    They need Christ for salvation just as much as we do.

  21. That is funny Thom - here you are, quoting Church teaching, and you're still wrong? ROFLOL!

    I can't even make up stuff that funny!

  22. INORITE? :)

    Dear Terry, we all know that the Church's teachings are all subject to the well-formed opinions of Fox News, EWTN, and Pewsitters.

  23. I thought Church teaching was subject to the National Catholic Reporter, the Tablet, Anne Rice, and the editorial staff of the NY Times. Huh - shows what I know.

  24. Indeed it does!

    Double standards abound.


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