Jesuit Writings on Islam in the Seventeenth Century

Neglected Polemical Works

Several articles in the journal Islamocristiana have presented a wealth of material that together forms a historical bibliography of Christian works on Islam and Muslim works on Christianity, including the controversialist writings of both Christians and Muslims. Taken as a whole, this material confirms what has been clear since Christian-Muslim polemical literature was first treated as a specific genre of religious literature,1 that is, that it is the two “ends” of the chronological spectrum—the earliest centuries and the most recent—that have received the greatest attention from scholars.

Of those works still extant from Ummayad and Abbasid times, most, both Muslim and Christian, have received the benefit of scholarly study. In later periods, the Arabic treatises that date from the fifth/eleventh to the eighth/fourteenth centuries (Hijri/Gregorian) have begun to receive the attention that they deserve. Much work has also been done on Byzantine polemics up to the fall of Constantinople as well as on the Christian works about Islam of Medieval Europe.2

However, with the rise of the “New Islamic Empires” of the Ottomans, the Safavids, and the Moguls on the one hand, and the Renaissance and Baroque periods in European civilization on the other, the scholarly world has only scratched the surface in studying the many writings produced by Christians and Muslims concerning each other's religion. And yet, when one moves from the Enlightenment into the colonial period of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, studies in modern scholarship again enrich our view of how Muslims and Christians have regarded each other's faith.

Part of the reason for the sixteenth-seventeenth century hiatus may be explained by the tradition of scholarship as it has developed in the Western world. Pride of place has been given to the study of manuscripts, whose restoration through critical editions and textual analysis is easily recognized as a worthwhile academic project. By contrast, those writings composed after the advent of printing seem already “available” and, because of their very accessibility, modern; yet, at the same time, those works appear to be too distant from our times and culture to have contemporary relevance.

When we look at the Christian writings on Islam from the late Renaissance and Baroque periods, further reasons for this scholarly neglect present themselves. As Levi della Vida has perceptively noted concerning the Refutatio Alcorani of Ludovico Marracci, the best known and most ambitious of seventeenth-century Christian studies of Islam, the work was virtually ignored in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. When the work was referred to by the encyclopedists and the Romantic scholars, it was with scorn for his “deficient notion of the historical development of the theological doctrines of Islam, for his indiscriminate use of sources of diverse provenance and diverse value and…his bitterly polemical character towards Islam and its founder.”3

The Baroque writings on Islam represent the final stage of the development of European Christian polemic before the “epistemological shift” that took place in Western society during the Enlightenment. For example, the strong reliance on argumentation from miracles in the seventeenth-century polemics as a proof of the divine claims of Jesus and the church he founded remains as unconvincing to the modern reader—whether Christian, Muslim, or other—as it must have been to the Muslim “adversarius” of that day. In fact, it may well appear more specious to the Christian of today than it did to the Muslim of that time.

The care that the apologists took to translate the subtleties of patristic and scholastic trinitarian formulations into apologetic arguments in everyday speech and simple metaphors is lost on the modern reader for whom scholastic argumentation, with its passion for careful definition and distinctions and its method of proceeding with relentless logic from first principles or biblical texts to appropriate foreordained conclusions, seems both presumptuous and dishonest.

The use of Scripture in the sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Christian polemical writings is subject to criticism. The Scriptures are utilized primarily as the source of “proof texts,” and the polemicists are not beyond adapting or even distorting the original meaning of the biblical texts to fit their polemical intents. Thus, the primary role of Scripture in forming the faith of the Christian community and serving as the timeless norm of the integrity of that faith is reduced in these controversialist works to providing bases, more or less suitable, for dogmas whose historical development can only be traced to later ages.

Another reason for the unattractiveness of the sixteenth- and seventeenth-century polemics is their effort to intellectualize religious faith and make it demonstrable by rational arguments. Antecedent to the Kantian critique concerning what of God's nature and activities can be known by human reason, these works presume that the adversary can be led step by step through the proper use of logic, from the starting point of whatever intellectual principles are affirmed or whatever religious convictions are held, to an absolute, irrefutable knowledge of the truth of the Christian faith as historically professed by the Catholic Church.

Presented with this unbroken chain of logical argument, an opponent's refusal to accept the truth of Christianity and subsequently to enter the community of truth through baptism can only be due to worldly factors of stubborn pride, considerations of family or social position, or sentimental attachment to traditional beliefs. Three of the works to be studied in this article, those by Thyrso Gonzales, Sanz, and Nau, proceed in this fashion.

Earlier Works by Jesuits on Islam

The Society of Jesus, commonly known as the Jesuits, established as a recognized religious order within the Catholic Church by papal bull in 1542, took an interest in Islam almost from its inception. As active promoters of the counterreformation renewal within the Catholic Church, Jesuits devoted their energies to combating Protestant reform in Western Europe and working for reunion of the Orthodox churches with Rome and for the conversion of persons of other faiths to Christianity. This was done by the development of new centers directed toward these ends, the establishment of colleges in key regions, and the production of great amounts of controversialist literature.

The Jesuits took an interest in Islam from the beginning. One year after their formal approval by the pope, Ignatius of Loyola, the founder and first general superior of the Society, opened the “Casa dei Catechumeni” in Rome, which was designed to provide instruction for Jews and Muslims who desired to embrace Christianity.4 In 1554, Ignatius directed that the houses of the society purchase Islamic books and that Jesuits study the Qur’an in order to be prepared to enter into religious discussions with Muslims. To this end, Ig. Lomelini (1561-1645) made a translation of the Qur’an into Italian.5 An Arabic-speaking Jesuit house was set up in Messina, Sicily, and an Arabic studies program introduced into the college there. Another Arabic college was begun at Monreale, also in Sicily, as well as an Arabic studies program for the Jesuit college on Malta. Ignatius laid plans for founding colleges in Beirut and on Cyprus. At the invitation of the Sheikh of Djerba (in modern Tunisia), plans were made to open the first Jesuit college in a Muslim land.

Of the early efforts begun by Ignatius, none stood the test of time. In the years after his death, however, Jesuit houses were opened in many predominantly Muslim regions. The first Jesuit community was founded in Istanbul in 1582, and from this political capital of the Ottoman Empire, Jesuit activities in Ottoman realms were directed.6 By 1650, with the permission of the Sultan and under the protection of the French ambassador, Jesuits were-living and working in many parts of the Ottoman realm: in Izmir, Aleppo, Damascus, Sidon, and Lebanese Tripoli, and on the Aegean islands of Chios, Naxos, and Santorini. Although already in the time of Ignatius, J. B. Eliano (d. 1589) had spent time in Cairo, the first Jesuit house was not erected there until 1697.

In India, Jesuit contacts with Muslims developed earlier. In 1578, the Mughal emperor Akbar sent a delegation to the Jesuits in Goa inviting them to his court at Fatehpur Sikri. The emperor had erected a house of worship for religious debates, and there Jesuits and representatives of other religions held religious discussions with Muslim leaders. The Jesuits in Fatehpur Sikri (later in Lahore) recommended that a school for learning Persian and Urdu be founded for Jesuits who would work in North India.

One of the first questions that presented itself to Jesuits as guests in Islamic lands was the religious attitude that they were to take toward their hosts. Early generals such as Laynez, Borgia, and Acquaviva instructed Jesuits to refrain from proselytizing or entering into polemics with Muslims, but rather to direct their attention exclusively toward offering spiritual service to Christians living in those regions. The idea was not to provoke disputes with Muslims, which might compromise their service to the Christian population.

Nevertheless, from the time of the first generations, some Jesuits became proficient in Arabic, Turkish, and Persian, and produced both descriptive and controversialist writings about Islam. The first writings by Jesuits on Islam grew out of personal involvement and experience. J. B. Eliano, a convert to Christianity from a prominent Jewish family of Alexandria, wrote the earliest Jesuit polemical treatise on Islam, in which he introduced the novel technique of a discussion between two Muslim scholars in order to disprove the revealed nature of the Qur’an and demonstrate the unique truth of Christian faith.7 Ignatius de las Casas (d. 1608), himself of a morisco family, wrote a fair-minded and sympathetic treatise entitled “Información acerca de los moriscos de España” in order to inform Pope Clement VIII of the beliefs, religious practices, and cultural traditions of the Muslims and Muslim converts to Christianity in Spain.8 A. Possevino (d. 1611) included a long treatise on Islam in his Ratio Studiorum, which had great influence on the educational program offered in Jesuit colleges.9

One of the earliest controversialist works by a Jesuit on Islam was “The Fountain of Life” composed in 1596 by Jerome Xavier at Akbar's Court in Lahore. Xavier wrote the work in Portuguese and translated it himself into Persian.10 The work sparked a polemical exchange between Muslims and Christians that continued throughout the seventeenth century. An Iranian Muslim scholar, Ahmad b. Zayn al-‘Abidin (d. ca. 1651), wrote a refutation of a Persian summary of Xavier's work that was circulating in Iran. When a copy of Zayn al-‘Abidin's work reached Rome, the Propaganda Fide commissioned two Catholic scholars to prepare responses. These were a Latin treatise by B. Malvasia (1628) and a work in Arabic by F. Guadagnolo (1631). Subsequently, in 1656, A. Chézaud, a Jesuit missionary living in Isfahan, Iran, who knew personally Ahmad b. Zayn al-‘Abidin, wrote a two-volume rebuttal in Persian to the Muslim's work, which the author debated publicly with Muslim scholars. The manuscript of Chézaud's work was still being recopied in Iran during the eighteenth century.11

The seventeenth century saw a number of theological polemics by Jesuits intended to strengthen Christians in their religious debates with Muslims. Many of these works are lost. At the time of the general suppression of the Society of Jesus in 1774 and in the local suppressions that preceded that event, Jesuit libraries and archives were confiscated, records destroyed, and books dispersed and lost. Often the loss was haphazard, with the new owners interested in only a part of the acquired library, selling or discarding those volumes that did not interest them or for which they had no space. Among these lost writings on Islam were a three-volume work by S. Arator12 (d. 1612), a treatise in French written in Syria by J. Amieu13 (d. 1653), a work in Cebuano by A. Lopez14 (d. 1655), Spanish treatises by F. de Aléman15 (d. 1644) and J. de Almarza16 (d. 1669), a work in German by B. Christel17 (d. 1701), and works in Polish by T. Rutka18 (d. 1700).

The final decades of the seventeenth century witnessed a number of Jesuit writings on Islam. These were all more or less directly occasioned by the religio-political relationships of the time between the European states and the Ottoman Empire. The Christian states of Western Europe perceived the Ottoman siege of Vienna in 1683 as a threat to Christendom itself. Pope Innocent XI ordered special prayers of petition to be offered in all Catholic churches, and a military alliance of German, Polish, Venetian, Papal, Russian, and Austro-Hungarian troops was formed to oppose the Ottomans. The siege was lifted when the Ottoman armies withdrew in September 1683; this event, followed by a rapid series of victories over the Ottoman army, was interpreted as a divinely granted confirmation of the supreme truth of Christianity, specifically in its Roman Catholic tradition. Many Catholics believed that the tide had turned; now Christianity was ascendant and Islam on the defensive. Some writers went so far as to predict the imminent demise of Islam as a heretical faith and a cultural unit inimical to European Christianity.

In the euphoria that followed upon the raising of the Turkish siege of Vienna, Jesuits produced a number of polemical treatises on Islam. The four works studied in this article date from this period. They are:

  1. Manuductio ad conversionem mahumetanorum by Thyrso Gonzales (1689);
  2. Breve trattato nel quale con ragioni dimostratiue si conuincono manifestamente i Turchi by Emmanuele Sanz (1691);
  3. Le moderne prosperità della Chiesa Cattolica contro il Maccomettismo by Nicolò Pallavicino (1688); and
  4. Religio christiana contra Alcoranum per Alcoranum pacifice defensa ac probata by Michel Nau (1680).

The Manuductio of Gonzales

Thyrso Gonzales de Santalla, Manuductio ad conversionem mahumetanorum. In duas partes divisa. In prima, veritas religionis christianae catholicae romanae manifestis argumentis demonstratur. In secunda, falsitas mahumetanae sectae convincitur (Dilingæ: Joannis Caspari Bencard, 1688).19

The most ambitious of the four works treated here is the Manuductio of T. Gonzales, written when he was a theology professor in Salamanca, but published shortly after he was elected superior general of the Jesuits.20 His work is valuable historically for the many contemporary sources cited and the information provided on early contacts between Jesuits and Muslims. Theologically, there is little advance on the polemical tradition that had preceded. However, Marracci praised the work highly in the preface to his Prodromus.21

The work is explicitly written as a handbook for Christian preachers to lead Muslims to accept the Christian faith and baptism. The author has compiled it from his many years of experience in preaching missions to Muslims,22 reinforced by his years of training as a theologian and professor of theology. Part I is a presentation of the claims of Roman Catholic Christianity to be the unique revelation from God, which can lead a person to eternal salvation. Part II is directed specifically toward giving his readers background information on the life and teaching of Muhammad, the religious tenets and practices of Islam, and a refutation of Muslim objections to Christianity.

General Argument

At 866 pages, this is by far the most extensive of the early Jesuit polemics. Gonzales begins his first part in medias res. The opening words are taken from John 8:24, “If you do not believe that I am he, you will die in your sins.” The author believes that the most effective way to lead Muslims, Jews, and pagans to faith in Christ is by confronting his hearers immediately with the alternative to acceptance of Christian faith, which, in the theological understanding of the time, was eternal damnation.

This first topic treated is a demonstration of the divinity of Christ, mainly through an elaboration of the miracles worked by Christ and by his followers, both in apostolic times and down through the centuries, in his name. The miracles confirm the claims that Jesus makes concerning himself in the Gospel. Against those who would deny the possibility of miracles, he strives to show the rational credibility of the Christian faith and to prove God's power to supersede the natural order.

Although the preoccupation in these works could be understood as a reaction of religious faith against the nascent rationalism of the time, Gonzales's concern seems to be more with Reformation theology. The Reformers generally agreed that miracles ceased soon after the Apostolic period; the Apostles were granted power to perform miracles so that the church could be established. Medieval and modern apparently miraculous occurrences were either frauds or delusions, a mark of the church of the Antichrist.

The Reformers were objecting to what had become an excessive cult of thaumaturgic saints and to exaggerated miraculous claims made at sites of pilgrimage. D. P. Walker, in discussing this question, notes the weak Scriptural basis for the Reformers’ views. “There is nothing whatever in the New Testament to indicate that the miraculous power conferred by Christ on the Apostles, and those whom they could convert, were limited in time. The only Patristic support consists of remarks by latish Fathers, such as Chrysostom and Augustine, on the diminishing frequency of miracles as the faith becomes established.”23

Gonzales moves to a discussion of the nature of faith, in which he shows the necessity of revelation for humankind and that the only religion in fact revealed by God has been that of Christians. Among the forms of Christian religion, there is only one that can claim to be true and founded by Christ, the Roman Catholic. This concluding section is centered on a refutation of the claims of Eastern Orthodoxy and the Reform theology of Luther and Calvin.

It is Part II of this work, entitled “Guide to the Conversion of Muhammedans, in which the falsity of the Muhammedan sect is convincingly shown,” which is most pertinent to the subject of this present study. This part is divided into six books with a total of eighty chapters (514 pages).


The author begins by listing his sources. Most of those cited by Gonzales are known to historians: the works of Ricoldo de Monte Croce,24 Peter de Cavalleria,25 John Torquemada,26 the letter of Pope Pius II,27 Peter the Venerable, Dionysius (Denis) the Carthusian,28 William Postel,29 Bartholomaeus Hungarus, P. Possevin,30 the Panoplia of the Orthodox monk Euthemius, St. Peter Paschal, the Cribratio of Nicholas of Cusa, Bishop Gienensis, and, especially, the works of Juan Andrea and Lupus de Obregon Abulensi (a priest of Avila). This last work I have not been able to identify, nor those by Bishop Gienensis and Bartholomaeus Hungarus.

For historical materials, he relies on Cardinal Baronius's Annales, Roderick of Toledo's General History, and Thomas Erpenius's translation of George Almacinus's version of Kamāl al-Dīn Armunaeo's edition of Muhammad Abū Jafar's History, published in Lyon in 1625. He is aware of Bukhari's collection of hadith and the tafsīr of Jalalayn, probably not directly, but through citations in his Christian sources.

In his presentation of the daily life and religious practices of Muslims, he cites pilgrim guides, travel books, and descriptive literature to supplement his personal experience among Muslims. Works of the Franciscan Anthony of Castille, Thomas Bozium, Joannes Antonius Menavinus of Genoa, Theodorus Spanduginus Cantacuzenus, and Joannes Leo Africanus provide such descriptive material.

Origins and Principles of Islam

The first topic treated is the life and preaching of Muhammad. Gonzales takes pains to provide precise historical information, comparing the accounts in his various sources and offering his own opinion on the relative merits of each. For example, he cites no fewer than thirteen Christian authors in attempting to determine the dates of Muhammad's birth and death, which he complements by presenting the views of “the Muslims of Spain” (Part II, 6). The result is a “Life of Muhammad” that is surprisingly accurate in its historical outlines. Following earlier writers like Nicholas of Cusa and Juan Andres, he holds that Muhammad, reared in the pagan environment of Mecca, rejected the local cult and turned to the worship of the one God; however, at that point, he came under the influence of the Arian (or Nestorian) pseudo-monk Sergius31 who was responsible for teaching him a corrupted version of Christianity.

Some of his information comes from personal contact with Muslims in Spain and North Africa. It was a Muslim in Oran who corrected his Europeanized pronunciation of “Mahomam,” to the more accurate “Muhammad” and informed him that the correct name of the religion was not “Mahumetanism” but rather Islam and that its followers were not Mohammedans but “Muslims,” which means, he adds, “those handed over to (or saved by) God.” Since that time, he states, he has always used the correct terms in his discussions with Muslims “so as to gain their good will” (although in the Manuductio he continues to employ the more common corruptions). His treatment on the origins of Islam is concluded with an objective, even sympathetic, summary of Islamic faith and practices.

Turks32 believe in one God, but in only one person, Creator of the heavens and earth, the rewarder of good deeds and the punisher of evil who established Paradise for rewarding good things and Hell for the final and extreme punishment of sins. They firmly believe Muhammad to be the greatest prophet of God, delegated by God on earth so that he might teach men the way of salvation.33

He gives the shahādah in Arabic and its Latin translation, explains the times for ṣalāh, the manner of ablution, the rules for the Ramadan fast, the celebration of ‘Eid al-Fitr, ḥajj, the pillars of īmān, Sufi zāwiyahs, and the differences between Islamic beliefs and those of Christians. He makes the curious observation, “Except for circumcision, they have no sacraments.”

Theological Arguments

In Book II, Gonzales begins his arguments against Islam. If Muslims say that one must be saved by following the Islamic law, what about all those who lived between the time of Christ and the preaching of Muhammad? There were in those days three religions: paganism, which Muslims and Christians agree to be an abomination; that of the Jews who were waiting for a Messiah whom Muslims and Christians agree to have come in the person of Christ; and the Christian religion. God, who does not leave the world without a means of salvation, must have made salvation possible through the Christian law.

His second argument is directed against the Qur’anic passages that imply that each is saved by following his own religion, Jews Judaism, Christians Christianity, and Muslims Islam. In his response, he follows Bellarmine in arguing that all the other laws are error and thus unable to conduct one to truth and salvation. He adds a second argument of his own. Although the Qur’anic teaching is ambiguous and may admit the salvation of non-Muslims, the Christian teaching is clear and decisive that “extra Christi Ecclesiam homines salvari non posse” (“Outside the Church of Christ, humans cannot be saved”). Certitude has a pragmatic advantage over uncertainty, not necessarily at the level of truth, but in the sense that if Islam allows the possibility of others’ being saved, but Christianity does not, one is more certain to attain the goal of salvation by following “the narrower path.”34

His next argument seems to reflect the social pressures on Muslims in Spain after the Reconquista to convert to Christianity. He argues that while Muslims sometimes become Christians, it is unheard of that a Christian become a Muslim. Gonzales is not unaware that captured slaves, on both sides, were “forced” to accept the religion of their masters; but, he says, Christians make an outward profession of Islam while remaining interiorly Christians, whereas Muslims actually, upon conversion, become good Christians. He then gives a number of instances, some from his personal experience, of apparently sincere conversions of Muslims to Christianity, the most celebrated case being that of Balthasar of Loyola, “the king of Fez” who became a Christian and eventually a Jesuit. Gonzales sees fit to cite verbatim Balthasar's own account of his spiritual journey (Part 11, 54-58).35 He concludes this section with an explication of his opinion that conscientious persons would be naturally attracted to the asceticism of Christianity after having experienced the “voluptuous sensuality” of Islam.

The next section (Book III) is strictly theological, with Gonzales attempting to prove the divinity of Christ from the statements about Jesus in the Qur’an. His method is to take the passages of the Gospels that speak of Christ's divinity and argue that the Qur’anic teachings logically lead to the same conclusion. This is followed by a parallel effort to show that the teaching of the Qur’an rationally concludes in the Christian position on the trinitarian nature of God.

At this point he deals with the Islamic objection that God, who has no wife, could not have a son. In his defense of the Incarnation, Gonzales begins from the Johannine verse, “And the Word became flesh,” to give account of the Christology of the early councils. He accuses Muslims of having been historically influenced by the Arian heresy (which he claims to be recurrent in Christian history, under various names and movements); this has blinded Muslims to the genuine teaching of the early councils.

His next argument is based on the honor and reverence that both Muslims and Christians give to Mary. A Muslim with true respect for Mary should be led to Christian faith by seeing the many miracles that God has worked through Mary in Christian history. Such miracles are evidence of God's confirming the truth of Christian faith. Gonzales returns to the question of the Trinity and argues against the Muslim charge that Christians worship three gods. He responds with a summary of the Trinitarian theology of Augustine and Thomas to show that the three persons of the Trinity do not compromise the essential unity of God. He supports this classical argumentation with a long account of a dialogue between himself and a Muslim named Hamid Sulayman that took place in Malaga in 1669, twenty years previously.36

“Do not think,” I told him, “that we Christians hold in one God three persons so distinct and separate as one man is distinguished from another. Among us, where there are three distinct persons, it is necessary that there be three men. Each person has his own human nature distinct from that of the other, as well as a distinct body and distinct soul. Three human persons are three men, because they have three bodies, souls, and human natures…. But the three divine persons have the same divine nature, the same perfections: intellect, will, power, and other perfections. Whence, although the persons are three, there are not three gods, but one God, who does not have three essences, but only one most simple (essence).”37

This brief example must suffice to indicate Gonzales's efforts to “translate” the subtle and precise formulations of the theologians into living discussion between believers. However, it is in the frequent recounting of his personal discussions with Muslims that his work comes alive and is distinguished from the more theoretical polemics to which he frequently refers. It must be remembered that this work is a “handbook for preachers,” intended to be used by Christians with the express purpose of leading Muslims to the Christian faith.

It is interesting to note Gonzales's frank admission that his interlocutor was ultimately not convinced by the Christian's reasoning and decided to remain a Muslim. As Hamid Sulayman was about to take his leave, Gonzales said to him:

Friend Hamid, before God you will not be able to plead ignorance; I have manifested the truth to you. If you still doubt the truth of what I have said, ask God to show you the truth, so that He may illuminate the darkness of your mind and lead you to salvation. After having heard all these arguments, if you remain doubtful that the religion of Christ is necessary for your eternal salvation, ask God to enlighten you. So that you be worthy of His light, avoid vices, practice piety, love God above all things and your neighbor as yourself, and diligently keep the Ten Commandments, for to these things all men are obliged. And then, after many signs of love and a friendly embrace, the Moor went away. Although I have not explored the matter further, I still carry the greatest hope that he will die a Christian.38

Book IV is short and attempts to prove, against Muslim objections, that Christ was truly crucified and died on the cross and raised to new life. This is the least original section of the book, relying mainly on Nicholas of Cusa and Peter de Cavalleria. In what seems to have been Gonzales's own predilection, he adds of his own, as an argument parallel to the miracles worked through Mary, an account of the miracles worked in Christian history through the cross as divine confirmation of the reality of the crucifixion. Book IV closes with a refutation of Muslim objections that the Bible of Christians has been corrupted.

In Book V, Gonzales abandons the apologetic stance of defending Christian teaching from the objections of Muslims; taking the offensive, he tries to show, from contradictions, errors, moral lapses, and injustices that he finds in the Qur’an, that Muhammad could not have been a true prophet, but in the ministry of Satan.

Following a common preoccupation in his Christian sources, he tries to show that Qur’anic permission of polygamy, being against the natural law, has led many Muslims into sinfully licentious practices that will result in eternal damnation, and that the prohibition of virginity prevents its adherents from following the highest spiritual path. Taking Islamic practices one by one—ṣalāh, wudū, sawm, and so on—he tries to show that the Islamic law is incapable of leading a person to an upright, godly life. His conclusion is that God could not possibly have been the author of such an erroneous, misguided book, and that Muhammad has perpetrated a fraud against humanity and, especially, against those who follow him.

His final section discloses the purpose for which the book has been written. It is an exhortation to Christian preachers to undertake public missions to Muslims in the coastal towns of Spain. This is obviously a project close to Gonzales's heart and one to which he had devoted his Lenten and vacation periods over a period of twenty years. Such missions might lead not only to the conversion of Muslims, but also to Jews and non-Catholic Christians being drawn to see the errors of their ways, and Catholics being strengthened in their faith. The section presents much interesting historical information about the efforts at the time in Spanish Catholic circles to convert Muslim slaves, sailors, and merchants through public sermons; and it concludes with practical advice concerning techniques, themes, and Scriptural references.39

Reading the work of Gonzales, three hundred years after it was written, one finds elements of perplexity. He followed the exclusivist ecclesial soteriology common to his time, which few Catholic theologians today would want to defend. His emphasis on miracles as proofs of God's confirmation of Christian teachings appears unconvincing to Christians today, as it must have to Muslims in his day.40 Scripture is used to provide proof texts for scholastic formulations rather than as the central content of the message to be conveyed. The fundamental problem, I feel, however, is the assumption common to polemics of the period that argumentation can lead to certainty, that a Muslim who has listened to a logical presentation of Christian faith must in conscience be led to baptism. The author seems to leave no room for conscientious doubt, sincere objection, the free action of God's grace, or the inadequacy of his own argumentation. While this criticism of Gonzales needs to be made at the theoretical level, his experiential accounts, particularly that of his above-cited dialogue with Hamid, show that in practice Gonzales was more inclined to accept the limits of rational argumentation, the mysteries of response and refusal, and the ultimate referral of questions of human salvation to divine wisdom than his rational theology could admit.

The Breve Trattato of Emmanuele Sanz

Emmanuele Sanz, S.J., Breve trattato nel quale con ragioni dimostratiue si conuincono manifestamente i Turchi, senza che in guisa veruna possano negarlo, esser falsa la legge di Maometto, e vera solamente quella di Cristo (Catania: Paolo Sisagni, 1691), 246.41

The Spanish Jesuit Sanz,42 after having taken up his duties in the Jesuit college on Malta, found himself in direct contact, for the first time, with many Muslims. Many Christians had Muslim slaves, and the towns of Malta contained the same type of foreign Muslim business colonies and transient seamen from Muslim lands that Gonzales had encountered in Spanish ports. Although it may be presumed that a large, probably preponderant, number of the Muslims on Malta were Arabs, Sanz uses the term “Turchi” to embrace all. Although he is aware (p. 29) that this is properly indicative of a nation rather than a religion, he, like Gonzales, follows the popular usage of the time in making “turco” synonymous with “Muslim.”

The situation he discovered among this heterogeneous population of Malta was that the level of religious discussion was quite low. To the Christian claim “You should become a Christian,” the Muslims responded, “No, you should become a Turk.” “But our religion is true and yours is false.” “No, ours is the true religion. You are in error.” To this juxtaposition of contrary claims, another factor disturbed the author. On the one hand, the Muslims were convinced of their religion and content to remain in it, while, on the other hand, Christians were complacent in allowing Muslims to practice their own religion and felt no need to try to convert them to the Christian faith.

He summarizes the arguments proposed for acceptance of the status quo of religious diversity. The Muslims held that God, had He wanted, could have made them Christians, but He has not done so, so they remain in the faith into which God had them born. Moreover, it is a grave sin to renounce one's faith; each person should love his own religion and hold it to be true. They held that God has not touched the hearts of Muslims to become Christians, so they should be allowed to remain in their religious belief. They cited instances of Muslims they knew who had converted to Christianity who, they felt, had not become good Christians. It is better to remain a good Turk than to become a bad Christian. They claimed further that there are already enough Christians in the world; why are the preachers trying to make more?

A pragmatic argument was introduced by those who noted that Muslim slaves will eventually return to their native countries, where they will encounter difficulties if they have in the meantime become Christians. Moreover, it was a fact of history that Christians and Muslims have always contradicted each other; this is the way it has always been and will always be, so why fight it? Finally, the Muslims held that the person who lives properly is saved, while he who lives badly is condemned, whether that person be Christian or Turk. In other words, let Muslims live as good Muslims and Christians as good Christians, and be done with divisive religious controversy.

There is a strong ring of authenticity to the arguments, which seem to find their setting in the public squares of Maltese port towns rather than in theological polemics. The “live and let live” attitude of the author's interlocutors seems to reflect a religious tolerance at the level of common believers, which to the missionary preacher and theologian smacks of indifferentism. However, these arguments may also reflect the stance adopted by Muslim foreign residents in a militant Christian region (the crusading order of the Knights of St. John—renamed the Knights of Malta after their expulsion from Rhodes by Süleyman the Great and reestablishment on the island of Malta—was the governing power on the island at the time) whose well-being depended on deflecting religious controversy by not allowing themselves to be drawn into provocative debates.

To the author, a consultor to the tribunal of the Inquisition in Malta, such arguments prescinded from questions of the truth necessary for salvation, and hence could not be accepted. The basic premise of his work is that all persons, even the worst and most perverse, want to be saved and to avoid eternal punishment. However, the ways are diverse and only one can be correct. “Will someone who follows the wrong path all his life ever arrive at the Fatherland?” he asks. His book claims to be an examination of the various religious paths in an attempt to discover the correct one.

His method is twofold. In the first part, he argues that all the teachings of the Qur’an about Jesus—his birth from a virgin, his sinlessness, his miracles—all point to God's confirmation of everything that Jesus taught and claimed as recorded in the Christian Gospels. Conversely, God never confirmed by genuine miracles the message delivered by Muhammad in the Qur’an. Central to this argumentation is the claim that the Gospels are the original and uncorrupted testimony of the teaching and mission of Jesus.

There is not much originality in this part of Sanz's treatise. He follows arguments well established in the Christian polemical tradition that preceded him. In the central importance that he places on miracles as the confirmation of Gospel claims concerning Jesus, one suspects his reliance on the earlier work of Gonzales, who, as general [superior] of the Society of Jesus in 1689, approved Sanz's work for publication.

In the second part of this work one can sense the preacher offering his own method “for the conversion of the Turks,” and it is here that his original contribution to the Christian controversialist literature can be found. He begins with the Christian's first encounter with a hypothetical Muslim, and then guides him, step by step, to a recognition of the falseness of Islam, then to a desire for baptism, and finally through the whole catechetical course. These instructions are in the form of a dialogue in which Sanz attempted to follow the same argumentation that he used in the first part, however, in the simple language of everyday discourse.

The first dialogue begins as follows:

Christian: God keep you, my friend. What is your name?
Turk: Sir, my name is Mustafa.
Christian: What country are you from?
Turk: I am from Constantinople.
Christian: Were you born in the same city?
Turk: Yes, sir.
Christian: How many years have you lived in this country?
Turk: I have been here about nine years.
Christian: Nine years! But how is it that in all that time you have not become a Christian?
Turk: Sir, I do not want to become a Christian.
Christian: Why not? Isn't it better to be a Christian than a Turk?
Turk: No, sir, because I was born a Turk and that is a sign that God wants me to be a Turk. My father and mother were Turks and died Turks, and I also want to die a Turk.
Christian: My Mustafa, this is not a good answer, since it is a clear matter that just because your father and mother harmed themselves, you should not therefore harm yourself.43

And so on. By the end of the first dialogue, Mustafa has decided to become a Christian, and is then referred to as “Catechumen.” Eventually, by the third dialogue he is baptized “Giuseppe.” In the course of these dialogues, which cover 163 pages of the 240-page work, the Christian uses citations from the Gospels and the Old Testament to convince his interlocutor that the Roman Catholic Church is the sole path that leads to salvation. Once Mustafa has accepted baptism, Islam withdraws from the scene and the intent is more to refute the teachings of Luther and Calvin. This is followed by two long chapters against the Schismatics (Orthodox) and the Jews. The dialogues conclude with the teaching about heaven and hell and “the goal of human life”—that is, the contemplation of God's love.

The author makes no pretence that these dialogues are anything other than a literary form by which to present the Christian faith, as understood by the Catholic Church, in a popular, interesting form. The Muslim convert Mustafa is no more than a foil for the catechist, asking leading questions at the proper moment, and enthusiastically admitting his errors when confronted with the sound teaching of the Christian preacher.

The argumentation being such that would not convince anyone who was not already a believing Catholic Christian, it is difficult to imagine that these dialogues could have been drawn from Sanz's personal experience, but seem, rather, to reflect discussions among Christian theologians concerning the best way to present the Christian faith to Muslims.

Le Moderne Prosperità of Nicolò Pallavicino, 1688

Nicolò Maria Pallavicino, S.J., Le Moderne prosperità della Chiesa Cattolica contro il Maccomettismo (Rome: Giacomo Komarek Boemo all’Angelo Custode, 1688).44

In contrast to the works of Gonzales, Sanz, and Nau, which relied primarily on theological arguments in their confrontation with Islam, Pallavicino's work is primarily political. As such, and in contrast to the “timeless” nature of the theological polemics, the historical setting of this work is essential to understanding the author's purpose. The work was written in 1687, only four years after the lifting of the Ottoman siege against Vienna. Pope Innocent XI was instrumental in forming the Holy League of the Empire—Poland, Venice, and Russia—which restored Hungary to Christian rule in 1686 and was advancing on Belgrade. Belgrade, seen as the gateway to the Ottoman heartland itself, would fall to the armies of the league only a few months after the publication of Pallavicino's treatise.

Pallavicino has two purposes in writing his work.45 Firstly, he felt that recent events marked a new stage in history, when God, through the victories granted to the Christian princes against the Muslims, was confirming the truth of the Christian faith against the claims of Islam. Second, he hoped to persuade the members of the league (particularly Leopold of Austria, to whom the work is dedicated) to continue their offensive against the Turks until the Ottoman Empire should be overthrown and Ottoman domains subjected to Christian rule.

The work is thus “triumphalist” in the strict sense of the word. He sees the enemies of the Catholic faith in four categories: heretics (Lutherans and Calvinists), Schismatics (Orthodox and English), Maccomettans (Muslims), and Jews. Islam arose in the Eastern parts of Christendom, “the land of heresies,” and is thus seen as “a great sea of all the heresies, greater even than Calvinism, to which, of all the modern sects, it is closely similar.”

Beginning from Old Testament examples of God's destruction of the empire inimical to the Chosen People, he celebrates, as signs of God's favor, the victories of Ferdinand I, Charles V, Philip II, Charles II, Peter of Portugal, Ferdinand II, Ferdinand III, and, most of all, Leopold against the enemies of the church, especially Muslims.46 He holds that God takes special care of popes and gives a historical account of papal campaigns against Muslim armies. The author feels that God's intervention at Vienna and the subsequent victories of the league are all the more miraculous because of the sad state in which Christendom had found itself only a short time before. In 1676, most of the Catholic monarchs were at war, usually among themselves. No help against the Turk could be expected from the powerful British or Dutch. The English had succumbed to Calvinist doctrines and were engaged in a bloody persecution of the true church. The Dutch not only gave shelter to the Calvinist heresy but were engaged in spreading, through their conquests in Sri Lanka, Malacca, and the Moluccas, that doctrine throughout the world.47

France, surprisingly, receives only one sentence in Pallavicino's otherwise thorough account of the situation of Western Christianity; moreover, it is the only reference that I have found in this 292-page work that refers to the contemporary existence of that politically and religiously important country. Acknowledging that the French were enjoying peace, the author nevertheless laments that they nourished “millions of Hugenots” at their bosom who like snakes were poised to strike their mother. The reasons for his reticence concerning France were two: first, France had traditionally been in political and military alliance with the Ottoman Empire and had refused to join the Holy League; second, the controversy between Innocent XI and Louis XIV over the Gallican articles was at its peak. In 1687, the pope had rejected Louis’ nominee for Archbishop of Cologne and accepted that of Leopold, and in January 1688, he secretly informed Louis that he and his ministers were excommunicate. A strong, almost fanatic, papal supporter, Pallavicino could be expected to side with Innocent; on the other hand, Jesuits were always unwilling to criticize France, their traditional protector. Pallavicino seems to have resolved this dilemma by a discreet silence on the role of France.

In rallying the Christian princes to fight the Ottomans, the author rarely speaks of “the church.” Instead, he consistently uses the phrase “mystical body of Christ” in the highly militant sense of the universal body of Christians, who have the responsibility to fight a common cause against their enemies. Citing Urban II's earlier calls for crusade against the Saracens, he claims that the outrages of the Turks are even worse. His main complaints concern the devshirme, the Ottoman practice of taking Christian boys and rearing them as Muslims for the janissary corps, and that of forcing Christian girls into the harems.48 He is not interested in discussing the theological differences between Islam and Christianity, but notes that Turks will not willingly, “save by a miracle of grace,” become Christian. The only way to save them from their infidelity is to overcome them with arms and force them to listen to the preaching of the Gospel.

The rhetoric of the book is that typical of wartime propaganda. The Ottoman Empire is a “dragon waiting to devour Christians,” and the Christian world has a sufficient number of heretics and rebels who are willing to induce the dragon to strike.49 The Turks are described with the biblical image of a “roaring lion” who circuit quaerens quem devoret (“seeking someone to devour”). Any offensive war against the Turks, he holds, is really defensive (and thus legitimate according to the just war theory), because the Turks will never be satisfied until they overrun all Christendom.

There is more to this treatise, however, than simple warmongering. The author offers astute insights into both the strengths and the weaknesses of the Ottoman Empire. He observes three advantages that the Turks have arising from their “art” or strategy of government. The first is to render many nations eager, or at least willing, to be governed by them. To an extent unthinkable in seventeenth-century Europe, they “have granted wide freedom of conscience to their peoples, embracing Christians, Jews, Muslims, Heretics, and Schismatics within their dominion,” with only pagan idolaters outside the limits of their toleration.50 This makes their governance tolerable to Catholics, to whom they allow free exercise of their religion, and positively desirable to Jews, Heretics, and Schismatics, who “being excluded from the vast part of the Catholic world, find secure exile in regions subject to the Turk.” The Turks are like bandit captains who accept all kinds of riff-raff, renegades, and evildoers among their followers. Nevertheless, he admits, “an Empire which offers exile and welcome to all unfaithful persons and those rebellious to their princes, has in itself an extraordinary strength, both for conservation and for propagation.”51 The liberty of conscience promoted by the Turks, he claims, gives them an advantage in warfare, since they are able to intervene in contested regions as helpers and then remain as masters.

The second strategy of the Turks is their manner of undertaking wars.52 Deriving from their reputation for freedom of conscience is their practice of intervening in wars at the behest of the people of the land. This gives them the advantage of waging a war at the expense of others. A second advantage is that their soldiers fight with more ardor, since they are being enriched not only by the spoils of the conquered land, but with free-will gifts of the host people.53 Finally, having cast out the enemy, they are in a position to demand and usurp the goods of the ruling class of that land.

However, their third and most successful strategy is to engage themselves only in one war at a time, after which they quickly sue for peace.54 After conquering a region, they offer advantageous terms to the people of that land, whereby the status quo is largely maintained. Thus nourished by the material gains and the new sources of manpower, they are ready to begin a new war. He advises the Christian princes that they could profit much by learning from the Turkish strategies and imitating them.

He also points out weaknesses of the Ottomans that the Christian rulers should be prompt to exploit. The military discipline in the Ottoman armies is weak, the human resources of the sultanate are diminished, and they lack the natural leaders that had made them so successful. Sultans Ibrahim and Mehmet IV are not of the political or military stature of their predecessors: Beyazit, the Mürats, Mehmet I and II, Selim, and Süleyman. His point is that this is the moment to strike if the Ottoman rule is to be overcome and eliminated.55

The author tends to see the history of Europe as a contest between the indigenous Christians and the Muslim invaders. The civilized world, he claims, is divided in two: Christendom and Islam. At present, the Turks are stronger than any single Christian power, but weaker than all if acting together. In spite of this schematic view of European history, Pallavicino is not beyond suggesting that in any Holy League against the Turk, the Persians, bitter enemies of the Ottomans, should be invited to take part.56 He feels that the real issue is one of Christianity versus Islam. Many think mistakenly that the Turks are interested only in power, but their true intent is to exterminate Christian rule. Europeans point out that Christianity is tolerated in Ottoman lands, but actually there is no greater persecutor of Christians than the Turks. Through their practice of granting freedom of conscience to Christians living in their domains, the Turks are worse than the early Roman emperors who persecuted Christianity. The Turks have not made the mistake of the Neros and Diocletians, who made martyrs of Christians. The Turkish technique is rather to integrate conquered Christian peoples into their religio-political system so that many voluntarily abandon their faith and adopt that of their rulers.57 The Turks thus make apostates, not martyrs.

He makes an interesting if debatable philosophical parallel. Catholics prefer to teach the philosophy of Aristotle rather than Plato, because Aristotle by his open enmity to religion cannot trick one into betraying the principles of faith. But Plato's philosophy, with its many similarities to religious belief and consequent attractiveness for religious persons, leads to many heresies. For this reason, the Heretics (Protestants) hate Aristotle and are enamored of Plato. Has the Ottoman Empire run its historical course, asks Pallavicino, so that today it is ripe for destruction? He notes that for four centuries, while the Turks have prospered and been permitted by God to establish their rule over Christian regions, as a punishment to Christians for their sins of heresy and rebellion, visionaries, astrologers, and apocalyptic preachers have repeatedly predicted that the time of the demise of the Turks is at hand. He cites as an example the predictions of the Carmelite St. Angelo, who in 1219 predicted that the Christians would be subjected, for their sins, to the rule of the Turks for a time, but, using passages from the Apocalypse, sought to calculate the day of the Christians’ liberation. Pallavicino dismisses such predictions of the future as based on invalid interpretations of Scripture. He rejects similar prognostications made by astrologists as trafficking in the dark arts, where humankind is open to diabolical deceptions.

However, in an approach that reminds one of Ibn Khaldun's pioneering sociological studies, the author indicates that there is sound evidence to show that the élan of the Ottoman Empire has been spent and that its days are numbered. The Turks have overreached themselves militarily and financially, while their ruling family has sunk into internecine treachery and debilitating self-indulgence.

In the past, the Turks possessed some important moral virtues, which they translated into political and military strengths: the rigor of military discipline, frugality in personal habits, abstinence from wine, and disapproval of pleasures and luxury. Moreover, unlike the ancient Greeks and Romans, the Turks have never been contaminated by the vices “whose mother is idolatry, to which they are enemies just as much as Christians.”58 Rather, their chief sin is pride, thinking that four centuries of success is an indication that God will preserve them from future calamity. The moral virtues that made their empire strong, the author holds, are today in disarray; as a result, they are vulnerable to attack by Christian forces. His conclusion is that the Christian princes would be derelict in their divinely appointed role if they did not carry the war all the way to Istanbul.

Pallavicino was simultaneously a preacher, assuring the princes that God would sanction and support their cause, and a shrewd master of realpolitik, even presenting reasons why war against the Turks would not be prohibitively expensive.59 Yet he was ready to grant the Turks their good qualities, even their moral strengths from which the Christian princes could learn. One suspects that, in his praise for the tactical advantages of the Ottoman practice of freedom of conscience and unity within the religious community, he was indirectly offering the Christian princes advice that went beyond mere strategy for waging war against the Turk.

Although Pallavicino was unsuccessful in persuading the Christian princes to act in concert in launching a military drive against Istanbul, modern historians, from a comfortable position of hindsight that was unavailable to Pallavicino, confirm many of his observations. Halil Inalcik marks the very years in which Pallavicino was writing as the end of an era for the Ottomans. “Ottoman statesmen now finally accepted the superiority of the ‘Franks’ and the weakness of their own state…. The belief that the state could be revived by a return to the order imposed on it by Süleyman the Magnificent was abandoned, and the Ottomans turned their eyes to the West.”60

The eighteenth and nineteenth centuries proved disastrous for the Ottoman state, as the European nations continually gained in strength vis-à-vis the Ottomans. Moreover, the interventions of the Christian nations in Ottoman affairs increased steadily until the “Old Man of Europe” was unable to operate without a continual series of concessions and disadvantageous alliances.

Pallavicino was a shameless Catholic supremacist whose judgments on Orthodox and Reform Christians were often harsher than his condemnation of Muslims. He was a propagandist whose interpretation of history was colored by the course of action he was advocating. His silence concerning the significant role of Orthodox Russia in the Holy League, the earlier Venetian refusal to take part in an anti-Ottoman Holy League that led to the papal interdict of 1605, and the contemporary opposition of Catholic France leads to the conclusion that Pallavicino has been highly selective in his use of history. Nevertheless, Pallavicino's work exemplifies the interweaving of practical politics and religious goals in a manner that would become increasingly rare in Christian Europe. Written in the final century before the American and French revolutions, Pallavicino's treatise, with its evocation of Crusader ideals and the role of the pope as the arbiter of political as well as religious unity of Europe, must already have seemed like a revanchist curiosity to many of his contemporaries.

The Religio Christiana of Michel Nau

Michel Nau, S.J., Religio Christiana contra Alcoranum per Alcoranum pacifice defensa ac probata (Lutetiae Parisiorum: Gabrielem Martinum, 1680).61

This engaging treatise grew out of the author's long stay in Aleppo, Syria, then part of the Ottoman Empire. Nau62 learned Arabic well, as is attested in the Qur’anic citations in this book; the work was written while he was still in Syria but published in France shortly before his return there in 1682. He begins with a common objection made by Christians. It would seem a worthless task, and even dangerous, to discuss the Christian faith with Muslims. In fact, as has been mentioned, the early Jesuit General Superiors had instructed Jesuits living in Muslim lands to refrain from proselytizing or entering into polemics with Muslims and to direct their attention exclusively toward the pastoral care of local Christians.

Nau defends his interest in discussing Christianity with Muslims by holding that if dialogue is carried out in the context of love and friendship, with respect and humility, without denigration of or hatred for Islam, such discussions need not lead to rancor and division.

He (the Muslim Interlocutor) will not be able to be offended and aroused against you, since you will not speak injuriously of his religion or bring it under discussion, but when asked, at least you can expound yours, in a moderate and unassuming spirit, so that you will give rise to praise and friendship, not recriminations and wrath.

With this introduction, the author proceeds to the main part of his text, “A Peaceful Dialogue between a Christian and a Muslim concerning the Christian Religion.” The interlocutors are a (fictional) Syrian Muslim, well known for his learning and his understanding of the Qur’an, and a European Christian who has done much study in the communication of the Christian faith and is acquainted with the text of the Qur’an.

The Muslim begins the dialogue by stating, “I am amazed at you Christians, who have been taught by a divine Book handed down from heaven, that you profess things which are alien to human common sense,” that no rational person, much less a believer who desires to serve God through faith, could believe. Thus, at the beginning the problem that Christian mysteries present to the rationalist bases of Islamic faith is raised.

The Christian replies with citations from the Qur’an concerning al-ghayb, that which cannot be known from human reason, but only through revelation. Christians are only following, he holds, what is written in the Gospel. But the Gospel that Christians have, answers the Muslim, is corrupt, and thus the issue of taḥrīf is joined.

The Christian defense is that taḥrīf is a gratuitous charge made by Muslims for which they have no proof. The Muslims are no more able to produce the hypothetical book that they claim to have been given to Jesus than they can prove that the Qur’an is identical to that given, according to their claim, by God to Muhammad. The Muslim interlocutor is allowed to defend at length the textual integrity of Qur’an, arguing that not the slightest corruption of the Qur’anic text could have taken place subsequent to the edition compiled at the time of the Caliph ‘Uthman. The Christian accepts the textual integrity of the Qur’an and uses the same kind of argumentation to show that the Gospel as well as the Old Testament could not have undergone alteration.

Anticipating the later critical principle of “lectio difficilior verior” (“the more difficult reading is truer”), the Christian then asks why anyone would want to produce an evangelical teaching so difficult to live.63 The asceticism of the cross and the difficulty of understanding dogmas like that of the one triune God give evidence of their own authenticity.

The Muslim admits that the arguments for the integrity of the Gospel are convincing, but notes that the Gospel is not in agreement with the legal traditions of the Hebrew Bible.64 The Christian responds with Qur’anic citations concerning abrogation and gives examples of how neither the Gospel nor the Qu’ran follows the legal prescriptions of the Jews. There follows a long section in which the Christian attempts to show, basing himself mainly on verse 4:171, that the Qur’an itself teaches the triune nature of God.65 When the Muslim responds that the Christian's interpretation of the Qur’anic passages is a form of “associationism” (shirk), the Christian endeavors to show that the Qur’an rejects the application of shirk and kufr to Christians.66 The Muslim is finally convinced of the legitimacy of Christianity as a monotheistic religion free from associationism and unbelief. However, he is not convinced that the Christian faith is the sole medium of salvation.67 According to Islam, he holds, each person is called to be a man of faith, to undertake a life of virtue, to act uprightly and in a praiseworthy manner. Such a person will receive his reward and need not fear on the last day. At this point, the Christian takes the offensive and, in the final section of the book, tries to show, with many Qur’anic citations, that following Muhammad is not sufficient for salvation. He holds that the Qur’an attests to the many sins and failings of Muhammad and the Christian dwells on the traditional Christian preoccupations of Muhammad's wives, his harsh treatment of enemies, and the voluptuous descriptions of paradise in the Qur’an. The book ends abruptly with the Muslim interlocutor saying how good God is and affirming how well the Christian has explained all the “moments of religion.”68 It is worth noting that, against the reader's expectations, the Muslim does not finally embrace the Christian religion.

This short work is an intelligent and perceptive discussion of those elements of faith about which Muslims and Christians today are still in dialogue. Nau's argumentation is based on a “Christian reading” of the Qur’an, which the author seems to have studied thoroughly. The precolonial setting of a Christian missionary living in Muslim domains at the permission of the local government, rather than as a representative and collaborator of colonial powers, might help to explain the humble and deferential tone. Clearly this is a work that has grown out of the personal experience of many years of shared life and thoughtful dialogue with Muslims.


1. The pioneer work in this literature was done by M. Steinschneider and I. Goldziher. At the time of publication of Steinschneider's catalogue (Polemische und apologetische Literatur in arabischer Sprache [Leipzig: F. A. Brockhaus, 1877]), fewer than ten of the works listed were in print. By 1989, when this article was first published, about half had been printed in Arabic, and new works of this genre had been discovered. A year after the publication of Steinschneider's catalogue, Goldziher, one of the main contributors to the catalogue, published the first important study of Islamic polemical literature, “Uber muhammedanische Polemik gegen Ahl al-Kitab,” ZDMG 32 (1878): 341-87. This was followed by the studies of A. Palmieri and I. di Matteo in Bessarione and the later works of C. H. Becker (“Christliche Polemik und islamische Dogmenbildung,” Zeitschrift für Assyriologie und verwandte Gebiete 12 [1926]: 175-95) and E. Fritsch (Islam und Christentum in Mittelalter [Breslau: Verlag Muller, 1930]).

2. See the bibliography in Islamochristiana 1:135-76; 2:188-245; 3:255-84; 4:247-65; 5:299-316; 6:259-78; 10:274-90; 13:173-80.

3. G. Levi della Vida, “P. Ludovico Marracci e la sua opera negli studi islamici,” Estratto del Tomo VII della Nuova Serie (III) degli, Aid dell’Accademia Lucchese di Scienze, Lettere ed Arti (Genova: Biblioteca Universitaria, 1949), 3-4.

4. J. M. Gaudeul, Encounters and Clashes: Islam and Christianity in History, vol. 1 (Rome: P.I.S.A.I., 1985), 214.

5. This translation was never published and has never received the benefit of scholarly study; it was apparently made for the use of students in Jesuit colleges. The manuscript remains in the university library in Genoa. See Levi della Vida, “P. Ludovico Marracci e la sua opera negli studi islamici,” 20.

6. G. Goyau, “Les Jesuites sur le Bosphore,” En Terre d’Islam 9 (1934): 7-19, 86-103.

7. Eliano is an interesting figure. Born in Alexandria, the son of a well-known Jewish scholar, he received a traditional Jewish religious education and was fluent in both Hebrew and Arabic. He traveled to Europe, where he was baptized and then accepted into the Society of Jesus by Ignatius. He was later sent on various diplomatic missions by the pope; in Cairo he worked (unsuccessfully) for unity between the Coptic Church and that of Rome. He is later credited with introducing the Arabic Bible to the Maronites of Lebanon.

His work on Islam, “Hādha muṣāḥabā rūḥānīyah baīna ‘l-‘ālimaīn” (“This is a conversation between two scholars”), was written in Arabic and published in Rome (Roman College, 1579). It was subsequently translated into English by W. Bedwell and published in London in 1615 under the provocative title: “Mohammedis imposturae, that is a discovery of the manifold forgeries, falshoods and horrible impieties of the blasphemous seducer Mohammed: with a demonstration of the insufficiency of his law, contained in the accursed Alkoran, delivered in a conference had between two Mohammetans in their return from Mecka.” Eliano's name nowhere appears in this English translation, which states only that the work was “written long since in Arabicke.”

8. This unpublished work, written in 1605, is contained in a manuscript entitled “De los Moriscos de España,” located in the British Library. F. de Borja de Medina, “Legación Pontificia a los Siro-ortodoxos, 1583-1584: las relaciones de Ignacio de las Casas de la Compañia de Jesus,” Orientalia Christiana Periodica 55 (1989): 127.

9. A. Possevino, Qua agitur de Ratione Studiorum In Historia, In Disciplinis, In Salute Omnium procuranda (Rome: Typ. Apostolica Vaticana, 1593), Book IX, Cap. VI. A modern commentator on the work of Possevino sees in his approach to Islam an attitude similar to that adopted in the nineteenth century by Cardinal Lavigerie and in the twentieth century by Charles de Foucauld, that is, of Christians and Muslims meeting on the common terrain of natural morality (S. Lator, “Il P. Antonio Possevino e l‘Islam,” Studia Missionalia 1 [1943]: 224).

10. Arnulf Camps, Jerome Xavier S. J. and the Muslims of the Mogul Empire (Schoneck-Beckenried, Switzerland: Nouvelle Revue de Science Missionaire, 1957). A Spanish manuscript of this work, presumably made by J. Xavier himself, is found in the archives of the Curia Generalizia of the Jesuits in Rome.

11. J. M. Gaudeul traces well the whole controversy in Encounters and Clashes I:232-34.

12. Born Stephen Szanto, he used the Latinized surname Arator. A Hungarian Jesuit, one of the founders of the Hungarian College in Rome, he taught classics in Jesuit colleges in regions of modern Hungary, Romania, and Czechoslovakia. His three volume work in Hungarian, dated 1611, has the Latin title, Confutatio Alcorani.

13. J. Amieu, a French Jesuit living in Aleppo, in the Syrian vilayet of the Ottoman Empire, was a companion of P. Chézaud who later left the Jesuit house in Aleppo to serve the Armenians in Isfahan. In 1641, Amieu wrote a “Refutation of the Qur’an” in Arabic in response to a Muslim treatise. It is possible that Amieu's work was, like that of Chézaud, in answer to the above-mentioned risāla of Ahmad b. Zayn al-‘Abidin. See “Extrait d’une lettre du 16e d’août 1641, envoyée d’Alep, par le P. Jean Amieu, de la Compagnie de Jésus, au P. d’Autruy,” in A. Carayon, Documents inédits concernant la Compagnie de Jésus XI (Poitiers: Henri Oudin, 1864), 152-57. Amieu was also knowledgeable in Turkish and compiled a Turkish-Latin dictionary, but has left no writings in that language.

14. A. Lopez, a Spaniard who spent many years in the southern Philippines, accompanied Spanish troops fighting Muslims in Mindanao and the Sulu archipelago and served as representative of the Spanish governor at the courts of Muslim rulers. Among his writings are a memoir of his cordial reception by the Sultan of Jolo and religious discussions at the court, a grammar and dictionary of Lutuaya, a history of Mindanao, and a refutation of Islam in Cebuano. Together with companions, he was attacked by local pirates near the island of Kawikawi (Tawitawi?) and was killed. See F. Combes, Historia de Mindanao y Jolo (Madrid: 1667).

15. F. de Aléman wrote “Explicación de la doctrina cristiana para los moriscos de Granada con la refutación de sus principales errores” (F. de Borja de Medina, “La Compañia de Jesús y la Minoría Morisca,” Archivum Historicum Societatis Iesu LVII [1988]: 28). Fr. Medina notes that the title is misleading; the contents of the work deal with Islam. At the time of the suppression, his work on Islam was in the library of the Jesuit College in Seville.

16. The work of J. de Almarza is entitled “Método que se debe guardar en la conversión de los moros esclavos a nuestra Santa Fe, con algunas industrias para lograr este fruto.” This work was in the library of the Colegio Imperial de Madrid at the time of the suppression of the Jesuits in Spain (1767).

17. B. Christel taught controversial theology in Prague. His work, Himmel Proviant Christlicher Soldaten wider die Türken (Prague: Karl Gerzabek, 1688), seems to have been along the lines of the work by N. Pallavicino studied in this article.

18. T. Rutka (d. 1700) taught controversial theology in Poland and spent some years at the Jesuit house in Istanbul. His main writings were against Eastern Orthodox theology, but he also translated the works of Gonzales (pub. Lwów: 1694) and Nau (Poznan: 1697) into Polish and also wrote his own polemic against Islam. Published simultaneously in Latin and Polish, the work carried the title Gladius contra Turcas a Christo Principe, Rege, Imperatore; in an indication of the mood of the time, this work is dated “anno Christi Imperatoris et Bellatoris 1696.”

19. Part II was published in 1688; part I in 1689. The work was published in Madrid in 1687. In the Vatican Library, there is a manuscript of an Arabic translation of part II of Gonzales's work, dated 1724, made by Jaqub Arutin, a Maronite priest of Aleppo. The title of this work may be rendered in English as: “Guide to the conversion of [Muslims]. In two parts. In the first, the truth of the Roman Catholic Christian religion is demonstrated by simple argument. In the second, the falsity of the Mahommetan sect is shown.”—Ed.

20. T. Gonzales (d. 1705) was professor of theology at Salamanca and distinguished himself in the field of moral theology as a fervent proponent of probabiliorism. The vast majority of Jesuit moralists at the time held the opposed theory of probabilism. At the behest of the probabiliorist Pope Innocent XI, he was elected superior general of the Jesuits, to widespread dissatisfaction in the Jesuit Order.

21. Ludovico Marracci, Prodromus ad Refutationem Alcorani (Rome: Typis Sac. Cong. de Prop. Fide, 1691), 6-7.

22. Particularly in Spain, Jesuits were active in preaching to Muslims and Jews. This took the form of “street missions,” public sermons, and catechesis held, usually during Lent and the summer academic recess, in the public squares of the Spanish coastal towns and the ancient Muslim centers in the interior. Gonzales organized and directed these missions in Seville and Malaga in the years 1672-1679. Fr. Madina lists the towns of Spain where such missions were carried out (F. de Borja de Medina, “La Compañia de Jesús y la Minoría Morisca,” 25-28).

23. D. Walker, Unclean Spirits: Possession and Exorcism in France and England in the Late Sixteenth and Early Seventeenth Centuries (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1981), 66-67.

24. See the Islamochristiana bibliography for references to Ricoldo de Monte Croce (6:275); Peter of Cluny (the Venerable) (5:313); Euthemius (4:261/11:243); St. Peter Paschal (6:271); Juan Andrea (6:270). There have been many studies of Nicholas of Cusa's Cribratio and of his approach to Islam. Noteworthy is that of Ludwig Hagemann, Der Kur’an in Verständnis und Kritik bei Nikolas von Cues: Ein Beitrag zur Erhellung islamisch-christlicher Geschichte (Frankfurt: 1976). See Islamochristiana 5:299.

25. Pedro de Cavalleria, a fifteenth-century Arabist lawyer of Zaragoza, wrote Zelus Christi contra Judaeos, Sarracenos et infideles (see Enciclopedia Universal Ilustrada XII [Barcelona], 687).

26. The Tractatus contra principales errores perfidi Machomet of John of Torquemada was printed in Paris in 1574 and again in Rome in 1606. See U. Monneret de Villard, Lo Studio del ’Islam in Europa nel XII e nel XIII Secolo (Vatican City: Biblioteca Apostolica, 1944), 75.

27. Pius II, the famous humanist Pope Enea Silvio Piccolomini, in 1460, wrote to Mehmet II, recent conqueror of Constantinople, with an exposition of both Islam and Christianity and an invitation to Mehmet to become a Christian and the continuer of the Roman Byzantine Empire. Pius's attitude was typical of many Renaissance humanists who saw in Mehmet an exemplification of the Platonic Prince-Philosopher (see F. Babinger, “Maometto il Conquistatore e gli Umanisti d’Italia,” in Venezia e l‘Oriente tra tardo Medioevo e Rinascimento, ed. A. Pertusi (Firenze: 1966), 434.

28. Denis the Carthusian's “Contra perfidiam Mahometi e Disputatio inter Christianum et Sarracenum” is found in vol. 36 of his Omnia Opera (Monstroli: 1896).

29. William Postel (d. 1581), an early Jesuit, in 1543 and 1544 wrote two works in which he tried to establish a parallel between Islam and Lutheran doctrines. After having been dismissed from the Jesuits in 1545, he went to the Middle East to collect manuscripts for another treatise aimed at the conversion of Muslims to Christianity (Dictionnaire de Spiritualité XII, 2:2007-12 ; and Gaudeul, Encounters and Clashes, 219).

30. For Antonio Possevino (P. Possevin), see note 9 above. Gonzales uses his Biblioieca Selecta, Book IX.

31. Both Christian and Muslim sources relate stories of a Christian monk, Sergius (or Nestur), with whom Muhammad was in contact. The Christian accounts tend to picture Sergius as the unorthodox (or even renegade) monk who taught Muhammad a distorted view of Christianity. Muslim accounts center on Sergius's recognition of Muhammad as the awaited Messenger. The historical existence of Sergius is highly questionable.

32. Following the practice in Europe at his time, Gonzales uses “Turks” as a general term to refer to all Muslims. When referring specifically to Muslims of Spanish origin, he uses the term “Moors.”

33. Gonzalez, Manuductio, Part II, 25.

34. Ibid., 35.

35. Born Muhammad al-Tasi in the city of Fez, Morocco, in 1613, at the time of his baptism he took the Christian name Baltasar Diego Loyola de Mandes. Baltasar, who claimed to be the son of ‘Abd al-Wahid Mtah Ahmad Sherif, the local ruler of Fez, became a Jesuit in 1657 and died in Madrid ten years later. The fact that local histories of Morocco do not mention anyone with his father's name has given rise to doubts about his claims to royal origins. After his death, he became a well-known figure in Spain and Calderon wrote a drama, “Gran Principe de Fez,” about his life. A good study on Baltasar is that of C. Garcia Goldaraz, Baltasar Loyola Mandes, S.I., Hijo del Rey de Fez (Burgos: Imprenta Aldecoa, 1944). On pp. 7-8 and n. 4, Garcia reviews the earlier literature on Baltasar.

36. The dialogue device was extremely popular in seventeenth-century polemics (we will see it again in the works of Sanz and Nau). The usual form was a conversation between the Christian writer and an imaginary Muslim adversarius, in which the Christian gradually answers all the objections and doubts of the Muslim, who by the end admits his errors and requests baptism. Eliano, as we have seen, produced the novelty of a dialogue between two Muslims. However, in Gonzales's work, one feels that he is recounting a genuine experience of dialogue; evidence for this is that after having heard all Gonzales's arguments, the Muslim is not convinced and remains in Islam.

37. Gonzalez, Manuductio, Part II, 128.

38. Ibid., 155.

39. Ibid., 287-307.

40. In their own polemical tradition, Muslims have produced similar accounts of miracles as evidence of God's confirmation of the messengership of Muhammad and the revealed nature of the Qur’an. One example from many that could be given is Ibn Taymiyya's Al-Jawāb al-ṣaḥīḥ li-man baddala dīn al-Masīh IV (Cairo: Matba‘at al-Madani, 1383/1964), 67-323.

41. The title of this work may be rendered in English as: “Brief tractate in which the Turks are manifestly convinced by demonstrative reason, so that it cannot in any way be refuted, that the law of Muhammad is false and only that of Christ true.”—Ed.

42. Emmanuele (or Manuel) Sanz (d. 1719) was a Spanish Jesuit of the Sicilian province, who went to Malta some time after 1666, where he eventually became rector of the Jesuit college. Two years after the Italian original of his Breve Trattato, a Spanish translation, probably made by himself, was published in Seville (1693).

43. Sanz, Breve Trattato, 67.

44. The title of this work may be rendered in English as: “The modern prosperity of the Catholic Church against [Islam] Mahommetism.”—Ed.

45. Nicolò Pallavicino (d. 1692) taught Scripture in Rome, was a theologian of the Sacred Penitentiary and a “qualifier” of the Holy Office. Most of his writings are controversialist, mainly against the Reformers and the Orthodox.

46. Pallavicino, Le Moderne prosperità, 52-89.

47. Ibid., 200-203, 24.

48. Ibid., 175-76.

49. Ibid., 186.

50. Ibid., 182.

51. Ibid., 189.

52. Ibid., 183.

53. He is probably referring to the situation of the Protestant stronghold of Transylvania, which accepted Ottoman protection against the Habsburgs during the Thirty Years War.

54. Pallavicino, Le Moderne prosperità, 184.

55. Pallavicino's perception of the military and political weakness of the Ottoman state is confirmed by secular historians. In 1687-1688, when this treatise was written and published, the state was in civil crisis and verging on anarchy. A local military adventurer, Yeghen Osman Pasha, rose to become “the most powerful personality in the empire,” and was appointed commander-in-chief of the army. Sultan Mehmet IV, as Pallavicino notes, was weak, and real power was in the hands of the Janissaries and his mother. They had Yeghen Osman Pasha assassinated, and private militias stepped into the power vacuum, gaining effective control of most of Anatolia. As a result of the costly and expensive campaign for Crete, the state was near bankruptcy; the army was demoralized by the assassination of Osman Pasha (H. Inalcik, “The Heyday and Decline of the Ottoman Empire,” in The Cambridge History of Islam, vol. 1A, ed. P. M. Holt, Ann K. S. Lambton, and Bernard Lewis (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1970), 350-52.

56. Pallavicino, Le Moderne prosperità, 194.

57. Ibid., 198.

58. Ibid., 236.

59. Ibid., 219.

60. Inalcik, “Heyday and Decline of the Ottoman Empire,” 353.

61. The title of this work may be rendered in English as: “The Christian religion against the Alcoran.”—Ed.

62. Michel Nau, born in Tours, was assigned in 1665 to the Jesuit house in Mardin and later to that of Aleppo. It was in this latter city that he penned the work studied here. In 1682, he returned to Paris, where he died a year later. A late (nineteenth century) manuscript in Arabic of his Religio Christiana, entitled Ithbāt al-Qur’ān li-ṣiḥḥat al-dīn al-Masīhī, is found in Beirut. Georg Graf believes that the Arabic version is original and that Nau translated his own work into Latin, but offers no evidence for this view (Geschichte der christlichen arabischen Literatur IV [Vatican City: Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana, 1951], 219).

In addition to the Religio Christiana, Nau also wrote an analysis of contemporary Islam entitled L’état présent de la religion mahométane, contenant les choses les plus curieuses qui regardent Mahomet et l’établissement de sa secte, published posthumously in Paris in 1684 (P. Bouillerot). It must have been widely received, judging from the fact of its having been reprinted in 1685 and again in 1687.

63. Nau, Religio Christiana, 16.

64. Ibid., 20.

65. Ibid., 22-28.

66. Ibid., 29-32, 33-34.

67. Ibid., 41-42.

68. Ibid., 54.

Previously published in Islamochristiana (Rome) 15 (1989): 57-85.