The twenty-third chapter of the Qur’an, The Faithful, re-iterates the attacks on the Catholic episcopacy in “Mary” and deepens themes found in “The Pilgrimage” (which still seems like it should be ordered as the last chapter). “The Faithful” is explicitly addressed to a population, that believes in God, that worships ‘gods,’ that believes there is some-kind of promise of salvation, but that it is unavailable to them. The Qur’an urges followers to repent directly to God, and go on a journey toward faith.
Noah speaks, and a new creation waits to be born.
A Reading, from the First Book of Enoch:
And it came to pass when the children of men had multiplied that in those days were born unto them beautiful and comely daughters. And the angels, the children of the heaven, saw and lusted after them, and said to one another: ‘Come, let us choose us wives from among the children of men and beget us children.’ And Semjaza, who was their leader, said unto them: ‘I fear ye will not indeed agree to do this deed, and I alone shall have to pay the penalty of a great sin.’ And they all answered him and said: ‘Let us all swear an oath, and all bind ourselves by mutual imprecations not to abandon this plan but to do this thing.’ Then swore they all together and bound themselves by mutual imprecations upon it. And they were in all two hundred; who descended in the days of Jared on the summit of Mount Hermon, and they called it Mount Hermon, because they had sworn and bound themselves by mutual imprecations upon it. And these are the names of their leaders: Samlazaz, their leader, Araklba, Rameel, Kokablel, Tamlel, Ramlel, Danel, Ezeqeel, Baraqijal, Asael, Armaros, Batarel, Ananel, Zaq1el, Samsapeel, Satarel, Turel, Jomjael, Sariel. These are their chiefs of tens.
1 Enoch 6:1-8
A Psalm, from the Psalms
Then they despised the pleasant land;
They did not believe His word,
But complained in their tents,
And did not heed the voice of the LORD.
Therefore He raised His hand in an oath against them,
To overthrow them in the wilderness,
To overthrow their descendants among the nations,
And to scatter them in the lands.
They joined themselves also to Baal of Peor,
And ate sacrifices made to the dead.
Thus they provoked Him to anger with their deeds,
And the plague broke out among them.
Then Phinehas stood up and intervened,
And the plague was stopped.
And that was accounted to him for righteousness
To all generations forevermore.
A Reading, from the Book of Jude:
For certain men have crept in unnoticed, who long ago were marked out for this condemnation, ungodly men, who turn the grace of our God into lewdness and deny the only Lord God and our Lord Jesus Christ…
These are grumblers, complainers, walking according to their own lusts; and they mouth great swelling words, flattering people to gain advantage. But you, beloved, remember the words which were spoken before by the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ: how they told you that there would be mockers in the last time who would walk according to their own ungodly lusts. These are sensual persons, who cause divisions, not having the Spirit.
Unlike the other high priests, he does not need to offer sacrifices day after day, first for his own sins, and then for the sins of the people. He sacrificed for their sins once for all when he offered himself.
A Reading, from the Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew
And it came to pass on the third day of their journey, while they were walking, that the blessed Mary was fatigued by the excessive heat of the sun in the desert; and seeing a palm tree, she said to Joseph: Let me rest a little under the shade of this tree. Joseph therefore made haste, and led her to the palm, and made her come down from her beast.
And as the blessed Mary was sitting there, she looked up to the foliage of the palm, and saw it full of fruit, and said to Joseph: I wish it were possible to get some of the fruit of this palm. And Joseph said to her: I wonder that you say this, when you see how high the palm tree is; and that you think of eating of its fruit. I am thinking more of the want of water, because the skins are now empty, and we have none wherewith to refresh ourselves and our cattle.
Then the child Jesus, with a joyful countenance, reposing in the bosom of His mother, said to the palm: O tree, bend your branches, and refresh my mother with your fruit.
And immediately at these words the palm bent its top down to the very feet of the blessed Mary; and they gathered from it fruit, with which they were all refreshed. And after they had gathered all its fruit, it remained bent down, waiting the order to rise from Him who had commanded it to stoop.
Then Jesus said to it: Raise yourself, O palm tree, and be strong, and be the companion of my trees, which are in the paradise of my Father; and open from your roots a vein of water which has been hid in the earth, and let the waters flow, so that we may be satisfied from you.
And it rose up immediately, and at its root there began to come forth a spring of water exceedingly clear and cool and sparkling. And when they saw the spring of water, they rejoiced with great joy, and were satisfied, themselves and all their cattle and their beasts. Wherefore they gave thanks to God.
A Qur’anic Homily
The Audience of the Qur’an
The Qur’an was written to a population that believed in God, was familiar with the Bible, were tempted by other ‘gods,’ and thought that death was the end.
They believed in God
Say, To whom does the earth and whoever it contains belong, if you know? They will say, ‘To God!’ Say, ‘Will you not then take admonition?
Say, ‘Who is the Lord of the Seven Heavens and the Lord of the Great Throne? They will say, ‘To God!’ Say, ‘Will you not then be wary of him? ‘
Say, ‘In whose hand is the dominion of all things, and who gives shelter and no shelter can be provided form Him, if you know?’ They will say, ‘To God!” Say, ‘Then how are you being deluded?’
Were familiar with the Bible:
Certainly We created man from an extract of clay.
Then we made him a drop of fluid in a secure abode.
Then We created the drop of fluid as a clinging mass.
Then We created the clinging mass as a fleshy tissue.
Then We created the fleshy tissue as bones.
Then We Clothed the bones with flesh.
Then We produced him as another creature.
So blessed is God, the best of creators!
Then, of course, you die after that.
Then you will indeed be raised up on the Day of Resurrection.
Were tempted by other gods:
We have indeed brought them the Truth and they are surely liars. God has not taken any offspring, neither is there any god besides Him, for then each god would take away what he created, and some of them would surely rise up against others. Clear is God of what they allege! The Knower of the sensible and the Unseen, He is above having any partners that they ascribe.
And believed death was the end:
Indeed, they say, just like what the former peoples said. They said, ‘What, when we are dead and become dust and bones, shall we be resurrected? Certainly we and our fathers were promised this before. These are nothing but myths of the ancients.
The reason, I believe, was the Qur’an was written to a Catholic population in the thrall of a forged document that borders on the heretical: the so-called Constitution of the Holy Apostles. This forged Constitution reflected the belief that the Bishops mediated the relationship between God and man, and the Old Testament Priests pointed, not towards Christ, but beyond him to the Bishops.
The bishop, is the minister of the word, the keeper of knowledge, the mediator between God and you in the several parts of the worship. He is the teacher of piety; and, next after God, he is your father, who has begotten you again to the adoption of sons by water and the Spirit. He is your ruler and governor; he is your king and potentate. he is, next after God, your earthly God, who has a right to be honored by you. For concerning him, amid such as he, it is that God pronounces: “I have said, Ye are gods, and ye are all children of the Most High.”
Constitution of the Twelve apostles II.IV.XXIV
The Bishops, the successors of the Twelve Apostles, are directly addressed by the Qur’anic author. Their actions are known by God, no matter what these “gods” do:
O Apostles! Eat of the good things and act righteously. I indeed know well what you do. This community of yours is indeed one community and I am your Lord, so be wary of Me.
But they fragmented their religion among themselves, each party boasting about what it had.
The Penitential Act
Like “Mary,” “the Faithful” contrasts the corruption of Bishops with the purity of Mary and her Son:
Certainly We gave Moses the Book so that they might be guided, and We made the Son of Mary and His mother a sign and sheltered them in a level highland with flowing water.
But while “Mary” is a sustained attack on the episcopacy, “The Faithful” has sustained sympathy for the community of believers. Those who follow the various Catholic creeds containing “We believe,” are welcomed in, and all who ask for the forgiveness of sins:
Indeed, there was a part of My servants who would say, ‘Our Lord! We have believed. So forgive us and have mercy on us, and You are the best of merciful..’ But you took them by ridicule until they made you forget My remembrance and you used to lough at them. Indeed, I have rewarded them today for their patience. They are indeed the triumphant.
This is important because of the practice, ordered by Bishops at the time, of giving the Sacrament of Reconciliation only once or twice per lifetime. Those who mortally sinned after a the second reconciliation would be in grave danger of dying in mortal sin, and of losing an eternal reward. The Qur’anic author rejects this, and teachers instead to pray directly to God for forgiveness.
Say, ‘My Lord, forgive and have mercy, and You are the best of the merciful.’
The Journey of the Faithful
The Qur’anic author describes the faithful as on a journey, away from a corrupt world and towards God. In the preceding chapter, “The Pimgrimage,” the shocking destination of that journey (to a wholly new system of sacraments) is revealed. But that chapter may have originally been intended to be the Qur’an’s final chapter. In any case, the journey here is presented in more familiar terms:
Noah, fleeing a world, about to the drowned in water:
So We revealed to him: ‘Build the ark before Our eyes and by Our revelation. When Our edict comes and the oven gushes, bringing into it a pair of every kind, and your family, except those of them against whom the decree has gone beforehand, and do not plead with Me for those who are wrongdoers: they shall indeed be drowned.
(The infernal characterization of the flood comes from Jewish exegesis, which the Qur’anic author has incorporated before)
R. Johanan said: The corruption of the generation of the Flood is characterized as great, and their punishment is characterized as great. Their corruption is characterized as great, as it is written, And God saw that the wickedness of man, was great in the earth;2 and their punishment is characterized as great, as it is written, All the fountains of the great deep. R. Johanan said: Three of those [hot fountains] were left, the gulf of Gaddor, the hot-springs of Tiberias, and the great well of Biram.
Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin 108b
The believer suffers in an unbelieving community, as have countless others before.
When We seize their affluent ones with punishment, behold, they make entreaties. ‘Do not make entreaties today! You will not receive any help from Us. Certainly My signs used to be recited to you, but you used to take to your heels, being disdainful of it, talking nonsense in your nightly sessions.
But remain steadfast, urges the Qur’anic author. When The Truth walked among men he did not serve the religious authorities by obeying them, but by obeying the true religious authority: God:
Had the Truth followed their desires, the heavens and the earth would have surely fallen apart with those who are in them. We have indeed brought them their reminder, but they are disregardful of their reminder.
And even the Apostle Paul wrote words that to all who reject the Donatist view of Bishops-as-Gods are important: bishops cannot be mediators because there is One Mediator, Jesus himself, the Word (or in the Qur’anic view, a Word in the Book)
Is it that they do not recognize their apostle, so they deny him? Do they say, ‘There is madness in him’? No, he has brought them the truth, and most of them are averse to the truth.
The “rebellion” of those bishops who have taken to calling themselves gods is like the rebellion of those false teachers. The fallen angels, the false teachers, the blaspheming bishops are malignant cancer.
Should We have mercy upon them and remove their distress, they would surely persist, bewildered in their rebellion.
But it is God, and not they, who will prevail.
When the Trumpet is blown, there will be no ties between them on that day, nor will they ask each other.
God, the Qur’anic author believes, urges men to repentance, and makes it available to them without an intermediary. There are in creation all sorts of creatures who would aggrandize themselves, and present themselves as “gods.” Indeed, one famous forgery even labeled bishop as such. But God does not tire of creation. God gives us all individually time to repent, and will wash creation of those who continue in their evil.
God is not tired of creation. For a while, he will let it continue to flourish.
Then after them We brought forth another generation.
Until the Trumpet blows. Then everything changes.