Of the principal religions of the world, Christianity claims the largest number of adherents diffused over the entire globe, from the farthest corners of Europe to the remotest parts of Africa. Thanks to the efforts of missionaries and the influence of European colonialism, there is hardly a country on earth where the Christians do not form a sizeable group in the population. In spite of the decay of faith in modern times in the West, Christianity continues to be professed by the majority of people in both Western Europe and North and South America. People who have abandoned orthodox religion still subscribe to what they cali Christian values, and it is consequently in terms of what Christianity means or what it has come to mean that one can expect to understand the basic patterns of conduct which are reflected in the West’s approach to many apparently secular problems.
Christianity is also the religion which has been continuously in contact with Islam ever since the latter emerged. They have challenged each other as adversaries sometimes: the historie confrontation between the two religions which is known as the Crusades does not exhaust the history of this rivalry. For centuries in Spain and in Eastern Europe they were locked in a struggle for political and spiritual supremacy, and to this day, it is feared by many, a modern secular West finds it difficult to view Islam with an objectivity freed from the traces of past
conflicts. Nowhere in the history of culture and religion outside of the chronicle of Islam and Christianity will one find a parallel to the rivalry and interaction of these two faiths.
This rivalry seems the greater and more astonishing in the light of the fact that both derive from a common Semitic source. The three Semitic religions, Judaism, Christianity and Islam have much in common; they share a common eschatology; they are monotheistic and they sprang fram the same geographical background. Their common ancestry is acknowledged by the Quran which calls upon Muslims to honour Moses and Jesus as authentic prophets whom it would be a sin for them to repudiate. Muhammad (May God bless him) is declared the last in a continuous chain of prophets who preached the same truth. This attitude is not however recipracated by either Judaism or Christianity. It is not until very recent times that Judaism in a part of the Middle East presented itself as a threat to Islam, especially the Arabs, but the rivalry with Christianity predates the Crusades and has dominated the world in one form or another down the ages. Muslim preachers find themselves opposed by Christian missionaries in Africa, Asia, Europe and America.
ln asking himself what is Christianity, a Muslim discovers that the question is not easy to answer. He may start fram the premise that since there are so many references to Christ in the Quran it would be comparatively easier ta understand Christianity than other religions. That is not sa in fact.
One of the first things by which a Muslim is struck is that although the Bible is spa ken of as the Holy Book or scripture of the Christians, it differs in character and authority from the Muslim Quran. It is in two parts, the Old Testament and the New Testament, and neither part is available in an authentic
text whose accuracy is beyond dispute. The Old Testament consists of a number of prophetie books composed at different periods by a succession of teachers or prophets in a number of Middle Eastern languages including Hebrew. The New Testament which records the teachings of Christ is again a series of books written by Christ’s disciples. The four most important among them are called the Four Gospels recorded by Mark, Matthew, Luke ana John. The word gospel lexically means God’s word, but the gospels give accounts of Christ’s teachings as each of these four remembered them. They differ in matters of detail, and even the direct quotations attributed to Christ vary from gospel to gospel slightly, as does the writers’ understanding of the role of Christ. This is different trom the authenticity of the Quran whose Arabie text has remained wholly unaltered and uncorrupted since the days of the Prophet. The Bible such as it is was translated into Greek in Alexandria in the third century, but the translation known as the Septuagint was limited to the Old Testament. The Latin translation of the entire Bible, known as the Vulgate, was made in the fourth century and is still in use in the Catholic Church. The original language employed by Christ in his teachings was Aramaic, but the gospels by his disciples were in Greek which was the dominant cultural medium of their time.
These facts are weil worth bearing in mind in any comparison between Islam and Christianity.
A tact even more baffling to the Muslim is doubt among a section of Christian scholars themselves about the historicity of Christ. Whereas the Muslims accept Christ as an authentic person on the basis of references in the Quran and the Prophet’s sayings the Christians are not agreed that there was a historical person clearly identifiable with Christ, nor are they agreed that if such a person actually existed he was born in the first year of the era named after him. Sorne now believe that he may have been born in the third or fourth year of the first century. Thanks to anthropology there is also a tendency to regard Christ as a mythical figure mOOelled on pagan gOOs, and many Christian festivals are said to be nothing other than sanitized versions of ancient fertility cuits.
This by no means exhausts a Muslim’s confusion. The monotheism of Christianity is complicated by the doctrine of the Trinity, according to which Christ is three in one, God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Ghost. The majority of Christians believe in the Incarnation as one of the central premises of their faith. This belief postulates that the man Christ was also in sorne sense a divine being, in fact God Himself who had descended to earth for the sake of the salvation of the human race. One of the early Christian sects, Arians, were denounced as heretics for thinking that God the Son was not coeternal with God the Father. Incarnation is one of the beliefs specifically repudiated in the Ouran. Christ according to Muslim belief was a man, an apostle, the child of a virgin, Mary. But even the Christian idea of immaculate conception differs from the Muslim. For the Christians believe Mary tb have been a married woman with Joseph for her husband, although at the same time they hold that Joseph did not have a part in Christ’s birth. The paradox of a woman being both a virgin and a wife is difficult for Muslims to understand.
Crucifixion which is so central to Christianity is also understood by Muslims differently. The Ouran states emphatically that Jesus did not die on the cross. He was saved and lifted by God. Cruci1ixion is also bound up in Christian theology with another basic Christian doctrine, the doctrine of atonement. The majority of Christians believe that Christ’s mission was to redeem man from the taint of sin which he carried fram Adam. Adam’s transgression in Eden which led to his expulsion from it is believed to have been the Original Sin whose taint every child inherits; redemption from it is made possible by acceptance of Christ’s grace. The doctrine of atonement postulates that God sent down His only son Christ who was in fact Himself in human form in order that He might by dying on the cross and thus partaking of suffering help man recover from the original sin of his ancestor. Those therefore who refuse to accept Christ are destined to be denied salvation.
The Muslim view is different. They do not accept the doctrine ot original sin at ail. The Quran states clearly that every child is born in a state of innocence without any taint of sin; he learns to sin because of his upbringing. This lays upon the parents and society in general the responsibility of giving each new-born child an education or training which would help him to differentiate between right and wrong. The Christians, on the other hand, emphasise that regardless of what an individual can do or fail to do he can never hope for salvation without grace, that is, without a surrender to Christ. Every child is potentially a sinner according to Christianity; sin is inherent in him; born in sin he has to be aware that his personal efforts, unaided by Christ, will not avail to save him.
A number of important corallaries follow trom this. The doctrine of atonement is responsible for the position that the Christian Church and its priesthood have ~n the Christian religion. The church as an organised body and the individual priest on its behalf can promise a Christian deliverance in a manner which has no parallel in Islam, Muhammad (May Allah bless him) is thought of only as a guide ao.d intercessor; he has no power to grant absolution from sin. Ev&ry man, we are told
repeatedly in the Ouran, must pay for his sins exactly as he may expect to be rewarded for the good he does; no one cornes between him and his Maker. Islam has no priesthood. This is true both literally and metaphorically. The fact that for congregational prayers an Imam or leader is chosen to lead the service does not confer upon him any special sanctity or privilege. Any Muslim who knows the rules and fulfils certain requirements can be appointed an Imam. The requirements are nor esoteric. The Imam does not need to be initiated into any special order; he has to know how prayers are conducted, and when there is a choice among two or three the man chosen should be one who is felt to be superior to the others in learning and piety. The appointment in modern times of paid Imams attached to mosques sometimes creates among outsiders the false notion that they are comparable to the Christian clergy. Such appointments are a convenient device adopted with a view to the systematic administration of mosques, but this is in no way to be equated with what is called ordination in Christianity. Ordination is a ceremony whereby a person ordained acquires special religious rights. He is set apart from the rest of the community. Among the Catholics he has to take the vow of celibacy; he alone can conduct services in church; he officiates at marriages; he receives confessions; he can grant absolution. At births, marriages, deaths, baptisms he pertorms duties which in Muslim society can be pertormed by any Muslim provided he is familiar with the rules. A Muslim wedding incidentally is entirely a secular affair; no religious ceremony is involved; the only requirment is that the man and woman marrying should declare in the presence of two adult male witnesses their intention of living together as husband and wife.
The absence of ordination in Islam is a fundamental deference characterising the Muslim conception of religion. The Christian priest is Christ’s understudy in the church; he is indispensable. No service can be valid without him. A deviationist priest can be unfrocked deprived of the right to conduct services in church or officiate at weddings, baptisms, and burials. Without the support of the established church an unfrocked priest loses ail authority.
Islam has regulations about apostasy, but that is a different matter. An apostate in Islam is a person who has publicly repudiated one or other of the basic tenets of the faith; what he loses is the right to cali himself a Muslim. The unfrocked priest on the other hand may remain a good Christian but on account of his refusai to obey orthodoxy as it is interpreted by his church he forfeits the privilege of presiding at religious rituals.
A word on the confusion created by the use of the term Mullah in the West may not be out of place at this point. Indiscriminate use has led many in the West to suppose that the Mullah like the Imam in Islam occupies a position corresponding to the position of the clergy in Christianity. In the first place the term Mullah has no religious sanction; it is employed loosely to designate people in Muslim societies who claim to have made a special study of the Ouran and other religious literature. In places they also wear a form of dress which they think is in greater conformity with Islamic ideas of decency, but which again has no sanction in any thing stated in the Ouran or the Prophet’s teachings. But such persons do not enjoy any special religious privilege beyond the respect that any scholar in any area of knowledge would command on account of his learning.
The greatest difficulty that the Muslim faces in trying to extrapolate the cardinal doctrines of Christianity from the Bible is that neither this book nor the earlier teachings of Christ’s disciples provide adequate clues to what is nowadays accepted as the basis of he Christian religion. The Ouran refers to the book given to Christ as the Injil. Of this no trace remains. There is no book which is claimed to contain the teachings of Christ exclusively, the exact authentic words in which his message was delivered. The Four gospels reproduce sorne direct quotations from him, but they are mostly second person narratives giving the disciples version of what he taught. None of the words and passages command the authority-textual authority-which Muslims attach to the Ouran.
The other problem is that except for the Fatherhood of God, not however in the literai sense which later Christians ascribe to the words, the important doctrinces of atonement and immaculate conception are not mentioned. Jesus as he is presented in the Gospels does not claim to have been anything but a Jew who conceived his mission to be to rid the Jewish religion of accretions which had corrupted it. He insists that the law be followed, and condemend those who were lax in their observance of the traditional teachings, offering his followers a cleaner interpretation freed of what according to him could not be defended.
It has been said by Christian scholars themselves that Jesus did not claim to have brought the world a new religion. His teachings as they were understood to be by his immediate disciples can best be construed in the perspective of Judaism. The central beliefs which Jesus reiterated consisted of the following:
a) Belief in the sovereignty of God as the sole Creator and Originator of the universe ;
b) Belief in man’s accountability, from which it followed that those who lived in accordance with God’s commandments were to be rewarded with eternal life in Heaven, and those who transgressed were to be punished in Hell;
c) Belief in the immortality of the soul and the after-life ;
d) Belief in Resurrection and Judgment Day when ail men will be called upon to render an account of whatever they did on earth.
The second, third and fourth beliefs are bound up with one another. Jesus added to these beliefs his own idea of god as a loving and forgiving deity, the Supreme Father in the sense of Creator, whose principal attribute is mercy, who does not discriminate in the distribution of His bounty between sinners and the virtuous. The Gospels repeatedly speak of Jesus’ belief in the kingdom of God which he says he had come to establish and his insistence that the destruction of the world was iminent. It followed that men would be foolish to waste any time worrying about the future, for there was in tact no future. Take no thought for the morrow, he said.
According to some Christian scholars, the absence of an elaborate code of ethics in the Gospels, any elaborate regulations as to diet and cleanliness, marriage or social relationships, is due to belief in the imminent destruction of the world. Besides, Jesus did not present himself to his people as a new law-maker but only as a reformer. He took the Jewish law for granted as the norm which his community must follow, concerned only to denounce what was sinful and calling the faithtul back to the true faith.
The growth of Christianity as a distinct religion and even some of the basic beliefs which today are understood to be of the essence of Christianity are acknowledged to be the work of later men, especially of such disciples as Paul. Three authoritative formulations of the Christian faith, namely, the Apostles, the Nicene, and the Athenasian came long after the death of Christ. To an outsider they seem to differ fundamentally from whatever doctrine is found in the Gospels.
It almost go es without saying that neither in the Gospels nor in the three creeds mentioned is there any reference to what the Muslims believe to have been the Book given to Christ, the Injil, which is named in the Ouran along with the Zabur or Torah as a revealed Book. Unlike Islam, Christianity seems to Muslims to have been the result of an anthropological process, with its basic tenets and doctrines gradually crystallising and taking shape.
On this account the best approach to it is a historical one. One runs less risk of misunderstanding Christianity by following the processes which have shaped it than by attempting to find ail its meaning in the authentic teachings of one single person as in the case of Islam.
If we accept the traditional date of Christ’s birth, his appearance in the first century of the Christian era coincides with important developments in the history of both the West and the East, which at once facilitated the spread of the religion and created for it obstacles which it overcame slowly. Shortly before the advent of Christ, the Roman Republic gave way in 30 B.C. to a new imperial system of government. The official pagan cult had also been weakened by the infiltration of extraneous forms of paganism, especially Mithraism, a cult in which the Sun god played an important part. It is said to have penetrated the Empire to such an extent that but for the emergence of Christianity it might have become established as the official religion of Rome. Jerusalem where Jesus was born was parts to the Empire, ruled by a Roman governor. The Jews were not reconciled to the conquest of Jerusalem by the Romans, but their attempts to throw off the Roman yoke failed repeatedly, and they had to submit to Roman law. The rulers in Rome were not much concerned about the religions practices of their subjects provided the officially installed gods were not openly challenged; they were particular about the allegiance to be shown to the emperor. As long as the subjects conformed in this matter Rome did no bother about what cult they foliowed.
Jesus is said to have been born in 3 AD to lowly parents, Joseph and Mary, who lived in Nazareth. His birth was attended by many miraculous signs, according to legend, one of them being the appearance of a bright star in the sky. Joseph was so poor that Jesus had to share space with animais in a manger, where he was visited by Three Wise Men from the east who had concluded from the omens seen at his birth that the child was God Incarnate. He spoke to those around him from his cradle and this confirmed in their eyes his holiness. The first thirty years of his life Jesus spent in Galilee, following the trade of a carpenter like his so-called father. He had little formai education but was believed to have studied the Jewish scriptures weil.
Jesus’ emergence as a preacher was predicted by John the Baptist who is said to have announced that someone greater than he would soon appear. About 28 AD Jesus began his mission as a preacher, confining himself to the reiteration of what he considered the essence of his ancestral religion. The novelty of his ministry consisted in the repeated emphasis he placed on the coming of a new order, the imminence of the Last Day, and the need for love and mercy. He denounced the priests who had become selfish and self-righteous. This gradually earned him the enmity of the Jewish priesthood.
Jesus’ preaching was accompanied by miracles, healing the sick and in sorne cases bringing the dead back to lite. He acquired a wide following and also began to be looked upon as a threat to the Jewish church. He was condemned by the Supreme Jewish Council called the Sanhedrin and turned over to the Roman authorities. He was tried by the Roman Governor Pilate and sentenced to death on the cross like a corn mon criminal.
According to Christian belief, Jesus died on the cross and would have been torgotten but for his miraculous resurrection from the grave. He manifested himself to sorne of his followers and commanded them to carry on his mission. Those who accepted Christ believed him to have been the promised Messiah. The movement they initiated had more success outside Jerusalem than in the place of his birth. Nor were the adherents interested in spreading Jesus’s message to people other than Jews, who are called gentiles.
When the movernent gained more adherents and was seen to diverge more and more from the traditional forms of Judaism, it attracted notice and began to be persecuted by the orthodox Jews. Paul who later became the greatest figure in Christianity was a persecutor himself, but he underwent a miraculous conversion in about 35 AD. He is reported to have seen a vision of the Cross in the sky, an experience which immediately changed the whole course of his life. From being a critic and persecutor, he became a fion adherent of the new faith and has been responsible more than anybody else for its transfoonation into a world religion.
Paul was responsible not only for the diffusion of Christianity but also for the form it took. He was a scholar who knew both Hebrew and Greek; he was weil versed in the Jewish law. He never met Jesus personally. One of the things he did after his conversion was to insists that the message of Christ was meant for not Jews exclusively. He addressed his appeal as a missionary to gentil es; he abolished the Jewish dietary laws, dispensed with circumcision as a necessary rite for entry into the Christian community, and wrote a series of letters to new converts which now form part of the New Testament as Epistles. These have acquired a sacred character as integral elements in Christian scripture.
To Paul Christianity owes the most important of its cardinal beliefs, namely, that Christ was the Son of God who had died to atone for the sins of mankind and that acceptance of this belief guaranteed salvation after death to ail.
Paul is said to have travelled widely on his religions mission to such places as Salonika, Antioch, Athens, Corinth and Rome. It was in Rome that he was beheaded about 65 AD during the reign of Nero.
The concept of incarnation and belief in the resurrection of Christ led té belief in the doctrine of the Trinity, that God is three in one, Father, Son and the Holy Spirit. Disputes have arisen as to whether the Son is coeval with the Father or is a separate being. Though these disputes have not been finally resolved, the orthodox believe that it is sinful to think of the three aspects of the Trinity as distinguishable from one another. For this reason prayers can be addressed among some sections of Christians to the Son. Needless to say, Jesus in the eyes of the Christians is more than a prophet, which is the appellation given to him in Islam.
ln the course of time, the mother of Jesus also acquired li distinct position as a holy person who, according to orthodox Catholic belief, was bodily assumed into Heaven. The cult of the Virgin was, however, unknown in the early ages of Christianity. It took shape especially in the Middle Ages.
The monotheism of Christianity is thus seen to be different from the monotheism of Islam, in which associating anyone with God or Allah is regarded as the worst of sins, Allah is no begetter nor has He been begotten by any one.
Christians believe in an after-life like the Muslims, which means that both religions hold that the soul is immortal. But here again there are important differences. Salvation in Christianity depends entirely upon grace, not on whether the man or woman has led a virtuous life in the conventional sense.
The world Christ incidentally is a Greek term meaning Messiah; it is used invariably to refer to Jesus and has become interchangeable with his real name.
The Christian clergy and the manner of their life were not a creation of Christ. The distinction made today between lait y and clergy was not known even in Paul’s day. Nor was the church th en an organised body. As time passed ho~ever, and the number of adherents increased it became customary to refer to those particularly concerned with the work of evangelism as eiders or presbyters. The forms of Christian worship had also by this time begun to assume a distinct individuality. Christians prayed in groups and gathered together to celebrate the main events in Christ’s life and mission, such as his birth, his resurrection after crucifixion and the last supper at which he told his disciples that those who partook of it were identifying themselves both physically and spiritually with him. These rites are not mentioned either in the Gospels or in Paul’s Epistles. The chief person officiating at these ceremonies came to be designated as a Bishop, It is after the establishment of Christianity in Rome and the general recognition of the primacy of the Bishop of Rome, that a hierarchical order among the Christian clergy evolved. The Bishop of Rome is known as the Pope, and the first occupant of this office was St. Peter.
But not ail Christian sects were equally willing to accept the primacy of Rome. The church of Byzantium did not yield to Rome and this led to the emergence of the Eastern Orthodox Church as a separate division. What is called the Reformation Movement which was initiated in the fifteenth to sixteenth centuries, gave rise to the other great division in Christianity, namely, Protestantism. There are many sects and subsets among them, but it is safe to speak of the three main branches of Christianity as the Catholic Church of Rome, the Eastern Orthodox Church, and the various Protestant churches.
The doctrinal differences between these divisions are far greater than those between the four principal sects of Sunni Islam, namely Hanafi, Shafi, Hanbali and Maliki, so calied after the leaders of the four schools, Imam Abu Hanifa, Imam Shafi, Imam Hanbal and Imam Malik, but also between Sunnis and Shias. Acceptance of Jesus Christ as the founder of the religion they follow is of course common but they differ in their interpretation of the nature of Christ and in the emphasis they place on various rites and rituals.
The main Christian festivals which with varying emphasis the different churches observe are the following :
Christmas, the celebration of Christ’s birth day, fixed traditionally for 25 December;
Easter, which commemorates the Resurrection of Christ after crucifixion;
Pentecost, marking the descent of Christ or rather the Holy Ghost on the Apostles fifty days after Easter;
Epiphany in observance of Jesus’s baptism and the visit of the Magi to the cradle in which child Jesus lay;
Ascension Day, or Holy Thursday fort Ydays after Easter commemorating Christ’s ascension into heaven;
Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent, a period from Ash Wednesday to Easter Eve, of which the 40 week-days but not the Sundays, should be observed as days of fasting. In the church of England the extent to which Lent is observed is left to the individual, but in general one meal a day is permitted.
Christ taught no special form of worship other than what he inherited from his ancestral Jewish faith. The services held in Christian churches are ail later growths, and as the names of the chief Christian festivals indicate they are centred on celebrations commemorating the events of Christ’s life as it is believed to have baen, his birth, his last Supper with his disciples, his crucifixion, his resurrection, and his ascent to heaven. The main ritual observed by ail sections of Christians with slight variations is Communion or Eucharist, which is a reenactment of the Last Supper which he partook of on the night that he was betrayed by one of his disciples, Judas Iscariot. It consists of a repetition of certain verses from the Gospels followed by the consecration of bread and wine; the breaking of the bread and the pou ring of the wine into the cup; the delivery and distribution of the “elements” as the bread and wine are now termed among the faithful; the declaration that this is done in memory of Christ’s sacrifice; and lastly, the actual partaking of the elements.
Catholics are required to believa that as soon as the bread and wine are consecrated they undergo a mysterious change into the body and blood of Christ. This is known as transubstantiation. Whoever consumes the substances thus changed receives into his body the flesh and blood of Christ and is in the process made one with him. Similar ceremonies have long been common among pagan religions, and this similarity between a central Christian ritual and a pagan practice is responsible for the view held by anthropologists that Christianity is a modern version of ancient cuits.
Sorne Christian sects, mainly Protestant, do not believe in the actual transformation of bread and wine into flesh and blood; they think the ritual is commemorative; but they too attach the highest importance to it. Only the Quakers, a Protestant sect founded in England by George Fox in the 17th century, do not accept the doctrine of transubstantiation either metaphorically or actually.
But communion, whatever the interpretation put on it, is the most important ritual in the Christian church. It is said to create a fellowship among ail Christians dead and alive whom it binds into an intimacy founded on faith in Christ.
It is this ritual which is daily repeated in ail churches, Catholic, Eastern and Protestant and can be thought to be the foundation of Christian worship. Catholics celebrate it with greater colour than the Protestants. This elaboration often takes forms to which Protestants object strongly on the ground that it introducesinto Christianity elements of paganism directly, but the importance of the observance itself is not questioned.
The daily or weekly services held in Christian churches as they have traditionally been observed, cannot be referred back to any rituals taught by Christ. Unlike the prayers said by Muslims for which definite times were fixed by the Prophet of Islam, five times a day according to formulae taught by him, Christian worship varies according to the traditions of each individual branch of Christianity. Verses from the New Testament are read, but except in the Catholic Church which retains Latin, the language of the Vulgate, services are held in vernacular languages, English, French, German and so on. The Lord’;s prayer trom the New Testament which is repeated in almost every church and corresponds in sorne respects to Surah al-Fatiha in the Ouran without which no Muslim prayer would be complete, cannot thus evoke the same linguistic appeal; the substance is the same in every translation, but the words are necessarily different.
Unlike congregational prayers among Muslims, in which the congregation listens silently to verses recited loudly in the morning and also in the two prayers said after sunset, a church congregation is expected to repeat audibly the words of the Lord’s prayer as the priest intones them. There is nothing corresponding to the physical movements which accompany prayer in Islam. The church congregation remains seated throughout a service, joining in the repetition of certain verses when called upon to do so by the priest officiating.
Another feature of a Christian service is a sermon by the priest on a text chosen from the Bible, whose significance he tries to expound in an elaboration. This has sorne likeness to the sermon which is delivered in mosques on Fridays.
Hymn singing is also a part of formai Christian service, without an analogy in Islam. Hymns are sung to the accompaniment of music. This is said to be traceable to the example set by Christ who sang a hymn after the institution of the Lord’s prayer. Whether this tradition is authentic or not, himsinging began early in Christian history, and sorne of the oldest Latin hymns are the work of St. Hilary who died in the 4th century.
Although services are held in churches every day, morning and evening, it is not obligatory for Christians to attend them. It is only the Sunday service which is insisted upon. Devout Christian however, especially among Catholics, attend Mass which is another name for Eucharist, every day of the week.
Sunday has a significance for Christians far exceeding the significance of Friday in the Muslim Calendar. Sunday is referred to as the Lord’s Day when worldly occupations are to be avoided, and till recently shops and businesses in Christian societies remained closed on that day. The’ restrictions were only sightly less rigid than those attached to the Sabbath among Jews who consider even cooking sinful on Sabbath day. But they were strict enough compared to the fact that ~riday was or is not any different from any other weekday except for the compulsory congregational prayers.
Special church services are customary at Christmas and Easter which are the two most important festivals in the Christian Calendar, but again these services are different in character trom the two main Muslim festivals, Id-ul-Fitr and Id-ulAzha when open-air congregational prayers are recommended. Open-air Mass can be held at any time when the Pope among the Catholics or a dignitary of equal rank among the Protestants visits any area; but open-air Mass is more common among the Catholics than among the Protestants. As a matter of fact the word Mass to describe the Sacrament is used ~xclusively by the Catholics; this has been so since the Reformation.
It is interesting to observe that whereas Muhammad (God bless him) is never prayed to directly or indirectly (indeed to do so would be to be quilty ot flouting one of the basic principles of Islam), Christian worship is addressed to Christ himself. Transubstantiation which is the highest object in Mass and Eucharist, that is the identification of the worshipper with the blood and flesh of Christ, has no parallel in Islam.
Christian cosmogony and eschatology are both based on the Old Testamen. Christians accept the creation story given in the first book of the Bible, Genesis, where it is stated that the first thing god created was light and that the sun and planets were created in the course of the following six days, and that God rested on the seventh day. The Ouran does not mention any time-table of this kind, and does not refer to the order in which the sun, moon and planets on the one hand and animais on the other were created. The story of Adam and Eve, the first couple, given in the Ouran is similar in some respects to the Biblical story, but there are important differences. Eve is nowhere mentioned by name in the Ouran; she is referred to as Adam’s wife. The explanation of their exit from Eden is almost the sa me but the Ouran emphasises that man having been created as God’s vicegerent on earth was in any case destined to leave Paradise. The seducer was Satan who had according to the Ouran refused to bow to Adam. Of this first sin by Satan there is no mention in the Bible. The Bible does not refer to the existence of the class of beings called Jinns to which group Satan belonged. He had been elevated to the status of an angel because of his piety.
Another difference between the Bible and the Ouran in this respect is that whereas it is possible to locate Eden on this planet itself, as many theologians among Christians do, no such inference about Eden’s location is possible on the basis of the Ouran. Milton’s great epic Paradise Lost which deals with the fa” of Adam would be difficult to understand except on the assumption that Eden was located somewhere on the newly created planet ca lied Earth outside of Heaven. Muslims are surprised to hear the Christians identifying Eden with a place situated between the rivers Tigris and Euphrates in modern Iraq.
As regards eschatology, Christians believe that there is an after-life and that the pious and the sinful would be sorted out and sent either to an eternal Heaven or an eternal Hell. A role is assigned to Christ and his mother in Heaven. This is an addition to what is found in the Gospels. The mother of Jesus is nowhere mentioned in the Gospels as a holy person with any role in the after-life. The elevation of Mary to the status of a semidivine being is a later development
History of the Christian Church
The new Testament which consists of the four Gospels and a number of Epistles written by Christ’s disciples gives little idea of the elaborate doctrines which both in the Catholic Church and among the Protestants constitute the principles of Christianity as they are understood today. The first three Gospels, by Mark, Matthew and Luke portray Christ as a missionary who took upon himself the task of purifying the Old Jewish faith which Jesus inherited as his patrimony. The writer of the fourth Gospel, John, introduces and element of mystery by identifying Jesus with the Logos of the Greek philosophers, the Word of God incarnate. It is from this source that the theory of the divinity of Christ is derived.
As Christianity spread. the need was felt to formulate its creed more precisely. The three most important formulations, as already mentioned, are the Apostles, Nicene and Athanasian creeds.
The Nicene creed is the clearest. It was framed at the Council held at Nicaea (Nice), a city in Asia Minor, under the presidency of Emperor Constantine in 325. It asserts the orthodox view of the nature of Christ as being of the same substance as the Father. Jesus the son and the Father were declared to be two aspects of the same Seing. At the Council of Constantinople in 381 the addition was made of the tenet of the divintiy of the Holy Ghost.
The Dldest statement of the Christian creed is the Apostles Creed. It is so ca lied because it is said to be based on Apostolic teaching, that is, as the creed was understood by the Apostles in Jerusalem. It does not differ in essentials from the Nicene creed, except that the latter is more precisely formulated.
The Athanasian creed owes its name to St. Athanasius, Sishorp of Alexandria, and like the other two is concerned with the three Persons of the Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Ghost. It begins with the statement “whoever will be saved before ail things it is necessary that he hold the Catholic Faith, which Faith except every one do keep whole and undefiled. without doubt he shall perish everlastingly.”
The Athanasian creed was challenged by Arius, a presbyter of Alexandria who refused to accept that the Second Person of the Trinity namely, the Son is of the same substance as the Father. Arius declared that the Son is not coeternal with the Father; He was begotten by the Father, and before He was begotten did not exist. Arius was however denounced as a heretic first at Nicaea in 325 and again at Constantinople in 381. Those who embraced the belief were regarded as a sect outside of the church, but occasionally one hears of people subscribing to views which can be seen to be close to those of Arius. Milton who wrote Paradise Lost to justify the ways of God to man has been accused of being sympathetic to Arianism. Arianism gave rise to Unitarianism in the 18th century.
The Unitarian church is an important Protestant church, though its adherents are not as numerous as those in other branches of Christianity.
The early history of Christianity is marked by terrible persecutions. The Christians were regarded by Rome and its emperors as a threat to the state. This was due to the refusai of the community, as it became gradually more and more organised, to take part in state religious ceremonies and to engage in military service. Rome did not object to the content of the Christian creed ,but as stated earlier it expected ail Roman citizens to conform to practices which were thought to unify ail the citizenry into a single body loyal to the emperor .Hence the persceutions . the aloofness of the Christians ,their tendency to think that they alone had a monopoly of truth and wisdom attracted the fury of the rulers and at the same time strengthened the sense of cohesion among themselves. The persecutions continued for the first three centuries of the Christian era. Emperor Marcus Aurelius, a liberal emperor himself, was inflexible in his attitude towards these nonconformists. The last of the emperors to persecute the Christians systematically was Diocletian. In 311 finally Emperer Galesius issued an edict of toleration, and two years later by the Edict of Milan. Emperor Constantine legalised Christianity and put it on a par with ail pagan cuits.
The successors of Constantine continued his policy towards the Christians. Emperer Julian was an exception, but during the latter part of the fourth century the government transferred state support to Christianity and ceased to support the pagan temples. In 395 Emperor Theodosius made Christianity the sole and official religion of the state of Rome. This was a signal triumph for a cult which began its history as a persecuted minority religion. It was the fortunes of the pagan cuits which were now reversed. In the fifth century they were being extirpated by force. There remained no danger of Christianity’s being again exposed to the ridicule of the Roman population.
The organisation of the church into the complex structure that it is today, among the Catholics as weil as the protestants, came about gradually as a result of a silent evolution which took several centuries. To begin with, there were no priests as such, and no distinction was made between clergy and laity as in Islam. But as the religion spread to far-flung areas and as the number of Christians increased, there emerged a group of men who devoted themselves exclusively to the service of religion. They could however marry and lead a life which differed but little from the life of ordinary men. Gradually the feeling arose that they ought to forswear marriage and take the vow of celibacy. This is the practice still adhered to in the Catholic Church, but Protestants allow their priests to marry and have families.
These religious eiders were at first known, as has been stated, as presbyters or simply eiders. They were also referred to as bishops, and by the second century the offices of presbyters and bishops had become distinct. The bishop earned the right to expect obedience from presbyters and other subordinates. An administrative division under the bishop came to be known as a diocese. The bishop of an important city like Rome or Alexandria was called a patriarch. Alexandria, Rome, Antioch, and Constantinople each had a patriarch presiding over it and there was at tirst no question of anyone of them being recognised as superior to the others. The bishops of Rome were also known as Popes. The term Pope was derived from the Latin word papa meaning father. Innocent 1 was the first Pope of Rome to claim superiority over Western Christendom in the fifth century : Leo 1 (440-461) maintained the same claim; and finally Gregory the Great (590-604) firmly established the papal position.
The claim was never accepted by the Christians of the East, that is, those in such centres as Antioch, Alexandria and Jerusalem. The Eastern Christians also refused to agree to the Nicene creed according to which the Holy Ghost proceeds from the Son as weil as the Father; they objected to sacerdotal celibacy as weil. Attempts were made from time to time to arrange for a compromise, but the rupture between the two churches was completed in 1204 wh en and army of crusaders sacked the Christian metropolis of Constantinople with the encouragement of the Pope of Rome.
Since this period the two main divisions among orthodox Christians have been the Church of Rome and the Eastern Orthodox Church.
The next split in Christianity occurred as a result of the rise of the movement known as Protestanism. As the word implies, it originated as a protest against certain practices which were felt by some sections to be contrary to true Christian teaching. Martin Luther in Germany in the 16th century was one of the first to revoit against Rome. About the same time movements of a similar nature arose in Switzerland, Scotland and England. Calvin in Switzerland (1509-1564) and John Knox (1505-1572) in Scotland repudiated the overlordsihp of the Pope in Rome and like Martin Luther claimed that each individual Christian had the right to interpret the scriptures in the light of his own reason. The Protestant movement in England goes further back in history, to Wycliffe who was the first to translate the Bible into English. A formai breach between the English Church and
Rome came about as the result of a dispute between Henry VIII and the Pope over the dissolution of one of his marriages.
The main branches of Protestantism are Lutheranism, Calvinism, Anglicanism and Presbyteriarism. Each represents an independent church. Anglicanism is the official religion of the English Establishment, with the Archbishop of Canterbury at its head, spiritually, though nominally it is the monarch who is recognised as the Supreme Head of the Anglican Church.
Down the centuries, many other sects outside of Catholicism have sprung up. Among the more important are the following:
The Baptist Church : Its origins are sometimes traced back to the 16th century. The main rite on which baptists insist is complete immersion in Holy Water as a sign of admission to the church.
The Quakers : A branch of Christianity which arose in England in the 17th century through the efforts of a certain George Fox who emphasised belief in the Inner Light. The Quakers have no ministers to conduct any service and believe that the Holy Spirit descends on worshippers when two or. three are gathered together. They also reject sacramental practices. Stress is laid on the individual’s right to approach scripture and god on his own.
The Adventists, also called Seventh Day Adventists who believe strongly in the Second coming of Jesus Christ at an early date. The dead sleep until the day of Last Judgment when the heavens will be opened, Christ will come in glory, the wicked will be annihilated, or sent to hell and the redeemed will live with Christ in glory. The Adventist church in America was organised by William Miller (1782 -1849).
Christian Scientists : The sect owes its genesis to the teachings of a certain Mrs. Eddy who was miraculously healed from a serious accident after reading the story of the man sick of the paisy in th~ Gospel of Matthew. Mrs. Eddy organised the first church on the basis of her experience in Boston in America. Christian Scientists believe that ail that God has created is good.
There are many other sects. A Korean, Reverend Moon, has established a new church with many adherents. They are known as Moonites.
Considering that the Christians claim to be the most numerous religious group in the world, it is not surprising that deviations in their interpretation of Christianity wou Id occur. But their claim to be recognised as Christians rests on their common acceptance of Christ as the source of their faith.
The total population of Christians in the world is estimated to exceed 800 million. Sorne put the figure higher.
Evolution of Christian doctrine
Three distinct stages can be identified in the graduai evolution of Christian doctrine, which are associated with three groups of men. The first group consists of the Apostles, the actual companions of Christ, who were responsible for the writing of the Gospels and the Epistles. The Gospels are four in number, and the Epistles twenty-tour Fourteen of them were written by St. Paul. The Epistles, like the Gospels, form part of the New Testament. They are, as the word Epistle implies, in the form of letters addressed by church leaders to various Groups in distant areas and contain instructions on how to conduct services and explain the meaning of those things in the Gospel which called for clarification .. The fact that these writings could be regared as part of scriptures is likely to surprise Muslims who do not and are forbidden to attribute any scriptural authority even to those sayings of the Prophet which are known as Hadith. It will help to bear in mind that the term scripture does not convey the same sense to the Christians as to the Muslims.
What the writers of the Gospels and Epistles left unclear or unelaborated about Christian doctrine crystallised in course of the following centuries in the writings of a second group of men konown as the Fathers. The term Fathers is applied to a large number of eminent teachers who flourished from the first to the seventh century, a period of six hundred years. Those who came before the Council of Nicae (325) are called ante-Nicene Fathers; and those who appeared after Nicae form another group. Among the eminent Fathers; mention may be made of Clement of Rome, Ignatius of Antioch, Julian the Martyr, Origen, Tertullian; the y ail belong to the ante-Nicene period. PostNicene Fathers, that is, those who belong to the period after the conversion of the Roman Empire to Christianity, include such figures as Athanasius, John Chrysostom, Basil the Great, Ambrose of Milan, Augustine, Pope Leo 1, Boethrus, Jerome, Pope Gregory the Great and Bede.
If parallels are sought in Islamic history, the apostles are somewhat comparable to the four leaders, Imam Abu Hanifa, Imam Hanbal, Imam Shafi, and Imam Malik who codified Islamic law and whose followers are called Sunnis. The Shias have their own Imams. But neither among the Sunnis nor among the Shias are the writings of the Imams given scriptural authority. This is a vital difference which must not lost sight of in any evaluation of their role in the development of Islamic law.
The third group of people to whom the evolution of doctrine is due consists of those philosophers in the Middle Ages who attempted to arrive at a reconcilation of Christianity and Aristotle. Exposed to the Greek philosopher who dominated the thought of the Middle Ages many Christian theologians tried to discover a via media between his ideas and Christian doctrine. The greatest among them is Thomas Aquinas whose Summa Theological remains unsurpassed to this day as an exposition of how philosophy can be synthesised with religion. It is his interpreation and theories which form the foundation of Christian education, especially in Catholic schools. Aquinas belonged to the 13th century; his achievement is widely held to represent the acme of orthodox Christian thought.
Philosophers like Aquinas who reinterpreted Christianity in the light of Aristotle are called Schoollnen. Their chief task lay in the examination of the relation between reason and revelation. Aquinas had several predecessors and successors. Anselm, Abelard, Duns Scotus and William of Ockham are the most famous among them.
The assimilation of Aristotle’s philosophy by Christian thinkers presented initially man y difficulties. The polarities between the pagan view of the universe in which man was given an importance far exceeding that of anything else and the Christian view in which everything was traced to God had to be bridged before it cou Id be shown that reason and revelation were not necessarily contradictory. Thomas Aquinas’s works were at first banned; but early in the 14th century they came to be recognised as an acceptable synthesis which did not threaten the foundations of Christian faith. Later Thomas Aquinas was canonised-that is, declared a saint.
The Schoolmen grappled with such questions as whether the existence of God was capable of proof or whether predestination excludes freedom altogether. These issues, it may be remembered, also form the staple of early Islamic philosophy.
The kind of philosophy the Schoolmen developed is called in histories of thought Scholasticism. As a matter of fact Scholasticism owes its genesis to the influence of Muslim thinkers, particularly Averroes, or Ibn Rushd (1126-1198) whose commenta ries on Aristotle brought Western thinkers into contact with the Greek philosopher who had been neglected for centuries in the West.
Scholasticism as an influential trend in Christian philosophy practically exhausted itself by the end of the 14th century. It is the Schoolmen who built the edifice of doctrine and thought which has since passed for authentic Christianity. There is no reason why this authenticity should be questioned by outsiders, but the enormous distance between the simple doctrines in the Gospels and the elaborate metaphysical structure of modern Christianity is a salutary reminder of how the simple faith taught by Christ has grown into a complex system of beliefs and tenets.
Since the decline of Scholasticism there has been no comparable body of men in Christianity who have exercised the same degree of influence over the Christian world as a whole. There have been great individual thinkers of course. The rise of Protestantism in the 16th century was marked or rather followed by the emergence of other thinkers who offered their own interpretations of the faith, but no school similar to Scholastici~m grew. Among these writers Calvin, founder of Calvinism, is well-known. He is the author of The Institutes of the Christian Religion which in tone and substance is very different from the works of Thomas Aquinas. Calvinists reject Catholic beliefs totally and appear to go furthest in their repudiation of orthodoxy as it was understood in the past.
The split in the Christian world brought about by protestantism set in motion far-reaching changes in the history of the faith and was responsible for conflicts between the Catholic Church and the new sects on the one hand and also between Catholic and protestant nations.
The movements launched by Luther and Calvin and others are referred to collectively as the Reformation. It was perceived by the Church of Rome to be a threat to its existence, and under Pope Paul III who acceded to the papal throne in 1534 a reaction began. Steps were thaken to hait dissent and secession and also to initiate internai reforms calculated to cure the weaknesses which had triggered protestantism. Of these measures, the most important historically was the establishment of the Council of Trent between 1545 and 1563. It set forth a clear enunciation of doctrines and reiterated firmly the position that the traditions of the church must be accepted as the only acceptable basis of Christianity. Those who challenged them as the Protestants did were declared heretics. Wherever possible the church tried to enforce the new orthodoxy by imposing penalties on non-conformists. A tribunal of the Catholic Church known as the Inquistion, originally created in 1229 with a view to suppressing heresy, became especially active in such countries as Spain and Portugal where heretics were liable to be broken on the wheel or burnt at the stake. Many are known to have been condemned to this punishment.
Another measure adopted by the Catholic Church to arrest dissent was the use of the Index to ban books which were considered to digress from the orthodox view of matters. The Index was a list, established first in 1557, which in its first edition in 1564 issued the titi es of condemned books. Catholics are supposed not to read any of these titles. The list of prohibited books has included such authors as Hobbes, Locke, Descartes, Gibbon, Voltaire, Rousseau, Flaubert and many others. The writings of the astronomers Copernicus, Kepler and Galileo were placed on the Index when they first appeared, but were removed from it later in 1835.
Yet another response to the upsurge of Protestantism was the founding in 1534 of the Company of Jesus, usually called the Jesuit Order by a Spanish ex-soldier, Ignatius Loyola. The order took a special vow of allegiance to the Pope in addition to the three vows of chastity, obedience and poverty. The Jesuits’ purpose was to win back converts to the Catholic Church by means of preaching and education. They have ever since been active in the field of education. Jesuit educational institutions are found in nearly every corner of the world. They succeeded in rolling back the tide of Protestantism from many parts of Europe, Italy, Spain, Por!ugal, Austria, Pol and and Ireland have remained predominantly Catholic. Parts of Western Europe, England, Scotland, North America are, on the other hand, predominantly Protestant. South America, which was colonised mainly by immigrants from Spain and Portugal, is also mainly Catholic.
The Eastern Orthodox Church, based in Greece, which does not either accept the supremacy of the Pope in Rome or subscribe to doctrines which the Protestants stress has adherents in Russia, south-eastern Europe, parts of the Middle East and northern Africa. The Copts in Egypt claim to belong to the Jacobite branch of the Orthodox Church. yet, another group of Orthodox Christians is represented by the Christians in Ethiopia. They used to be affiliated to the church in Egypt but now consider themselves independent.
The Eastern OrthodoxChurch is much less interested in evangelism than the, Catholics and Protestants who maintain missionary services throughout the world.
There are Christians in many Asian countries, such as China, Korea, Japan, India, but the only country in Asia which is officially Christian is the Philippines. This archipelago was
converted to the Catholic form of Christianity under Spanish rule from 1565 until 1898.
Although it originated in the Middle East in Asia, Christianity has since almost the time of St. Paul been looked upon as a Eurocentric faith. This has been due to the fact that after the Fathers who helped shape doctrine during the first six hundred years of its history, ail the great Christian thinkers have been Europeans. There is no Eastern name which can parallel the prestige of St. Augustine or Thomas Aquinas.
Among the Christian sects, the Church of Rome with its allegiance focused on the Pope presents a spectacle of religious unit y far greater th an anything seen among the Protestants. The latter have as ma!:ly centres as there are sects, and no functionary corresponding to the Pope who can command the loyalty of ail groups.
The differences between the Christian sects in respect of doctrine, ritual and organisation are likely to strike a Muslim as being far grater than anything in Islam as far as the two divisions in the Muslim world, namely, Sunnis and Shias are concerned. The Unitarians are the closest to the Muslims from the standpoint of monotheism. They, like the Muslims, believe in the unity of the Godhead and are opposed to the Trinity. Some Protestant groups such as the Presbyterians insists on the avoidance of coluorful ceremonies in the worship. The Catholic Church demands celibacy of its priesthood; the Protestants do not.
ln the Middle Ages before the rise of Protestantism, there came into being in the Roman Catholic Church a number of Mendicant Orders-that is, orders who were licensed to preach the faith and depend on public charity for their maintenance. The members of these orders are known as friars, and the four most important groups who have played a part in European history are Franciscans, Dominicans, Carmelites, and Augustiniars. The Franciscan Order was founded in 1208 by St. Francis; the Dominicans trace their ancestry to St. Dominic who established this order in 1215; the Carmelities claim to be descended from a sect founded by Elijah on Mt. Carmel in Palestine, but historically it was St. Berthold who organised this order in or about 1150; finally, as their name suggests, the Augustinians derive their origins from St. Augustine. The friars were an active force in Christian evangelism in the Middle Ages and are frequently mentioned in mediaevalliterature.
Another important group of Christians consists of the monks. A monk meant a person who lived apart from the world with a view to the development of the religious life by meditation and contemplation, devotional exercises and ascetic practices. A monk’s establishment is known as a monastery . Like the mendicant orders, monasteries also played a part in European history. They became a powerful institution. Henry ViII’s decision to dissolve the English monasterless in England marks the beginning of English Protestantism in the 16th century. Monasteries which catered for men had a counterpart in nunneries for women; their ideals were the same.
The most famous monastic orders are the Cluniacs founded in 910; the Carthusians (1084); Cistercians (1098); Premonstratensians (1120); and the Gilbertines (1148); A branch of the Cistercians are known as Trappists; they are required to observe the rule of perpetuai silence save in times of necessity. Trappist monasteries and nunneries are found even today in both Europe and America.
Ali monastic orders like the orders of friars are affiliated to the Catholic Church.
Although individuals here and there among the Muslims may renounce the world and live a celibate life, monasticism as such is not only discouraged but forbidden in Islam. The nearest parallel in Islam in the Sufi orders founded by great religious teachers. But Sutis do not have to take the vow of celibacy or perpetuai silence. The parallelism must not be streched too far.
While not disputing the right of any of the numerous sects and orders to be the rightful followers of Christ, the nonChristian student or religion would do weil to remember that he would find little direct support for either their doctrines or their practices in the Bible. Christianity appears from this point of view to have undergone greater and more far-reaching changes in the hands of its followers than Islam. Muslim scripture has sometimes been interpreted in widely differing ways, but except in the case of those sects which have been universally denounced as heretical none of these interpretations approximate to the divergence that seems to an outsider to exist between the original teachings of Christ and what is accepted as valid by most Christians today. Unless this fact is borne in mind misunderstanding and confusion are likely.
The organisation of Christian churches has also acquired in the course of history great complexity. With the exception of a few like the Friends, each church is governed by a hierarchy of officers. The most typical of these categories is the hierarchy of officers. The most typical of these categories is the hierarchy of which the apex is the Pope in the Church of Rome. He is assisted by a body of priests known as cardinals who are members of the sacred College of Cardinals, one of whose duties is to elect a new Pope when a vacancy occurs. The total number of cardinals is 70; a proportion of them must live in Rome to be available for constant consultation; the others are scattered throughout the world and meet when the College of Cardinals is called into session. Next to them come the archbishops and bishops. Probationary priests are called deacons.
Canons are clergymen who live with others in a house within the precinct of a cathedral.
The Catholic Church confers the honour of sainthood on great Christians after their deaths if they are reliably believed to have performed miracles. The process by which sainthood is conferred is known as canonisation.
The governing body of the orthodox Church is the Holy Synod. At the head of the Anglican Church of England is the Archbisop of Canterbury. The Archbishop is assisted by a Synod consisting of Bishops under him. The Church of Scotland is governed by a General Assembly which meets annually at Edinburgh. The General Assembly crowns a pyramid comprising kirk-sessions, presbyte ries and synods. The Assembly is presided over by an elected Moderator.
The Salvation Army, a Protestant church organisation founded by William Booth in 1865 in London for missionary work among the poor, has a hierarchical structure like the military consisting of soldiers, lieutenants, captains, majors, colonels, brigadiers. It is headed by a General.
The nomenclature of the offices in different churches varies, but they ail have a hierarchical structure unlike anything in Islam. The general name for prayer leaders in Islam is Imam, but this in an office which can be discharged by anyone; and secondly there are no grades among the Imams. People versed in religious learning are venerated by the Muslim community, but this veneration does not endow them with any special status as priests.