Denis the Carthusian: Prooemium to the Saracens

by Gerardus Maiella

Many things indeed have engaged our attentions over the past two months, not the least being a very debilitating fever which we contracted several weeks ago. Excepting that period of illness, we have been often engaged in the work of translating various projects, Suárez’s De bello and an early Thomist work on the common good being chief among them, though there is still much work to be done with either. (In addition to that, we have also been making our way through a very lengthy fiction series with great avidity—something we have given far too little time to in recent years.) But these of course are excuses for our inactivity here more than anything else. Recently, we were reminded of a much-neglected work by Denis the Carthusian against the Saracens, entitled Contra perfidiam Mahometi libri quatuor—that is, Against the Perfidy of Mohammed, comprising four books. We read his page-long opening address to the Muslims, to whom he primarily directed the work, and, finding it to contain noble and worthy sentiments, resolved on a whim to translate it for the pleasure of our friends on social media. We now present it for your reading, in the hope that it may be the harbinger of more material from us in the near future.

(Taken from vol. 36 of the Doctoris ecstatici D. Dionysii Cartusiani opera omnia, published in 1908.)

To the great king and powerful Ruler of the Saracens, and to all doctors and followers of the law of Mahomet, a Christian religious: to know the truth of things necessary for salvation, to read and hear with equanimity writings which are reasonable, and to arrive at true beatitude.

Because we Christians, according to the doctrine and command of our Savior Jesus Christ, ought not only to love friends, but enemies also, to do good to those who hate us, and likewise to pray for persecutors and calumniators, in order that we might be adoptive sons of the almighty Father, who makes his sun to rise over the good and the bad, and makes it to rain upon the just and the unjust; hence, in truth, Christians do in spirit love the Saracens—although the latter violently oppose themselves—and daily intercede for their illumination, conversion, and salvation. Nevertheless, this love and piety of the Christians is looked upon with scorn by the Saracens, who think themselves to be wiser and happier than the Christians; still, if they should attend patiently and diligently to those things which are written in this little work, perhaps they shall suppose or think otherwise. And so, I, the least of the servants of Christ, who have heard frequently and read a little concerning the law of Mahomet, and have always grieved for those who walk by that law—when, in the same year in which I began to write these things, I had read the Koran and the Doctrine of Mahomet and certain other things concerning it, and had reread them with very great diligence, I was touched with anguish in my heart, deploring the deception and eternal damnation of such innumerable thousands of men: in particular, because the Saracens concord with us in so many things, and because of this seem to be able to be converted with sufficient ease. Hence, for the laud and glory of God, sublime and blessed, who is worshiped profitably by Christians alone, I have set it before myself to write these things for the conversion of the Saracens, by showing to them in a clearer light their errors and the falsities of the doctrines of Mahomet, and by manifesting that the writings of the Koran are rife with errors, and implying contradiction, alas! frequently.

I furthermore desire, that as much as we Christians attentively read the writings concerning the law of the Saracens, they themselves read these things with diligence, and do not pertinaciously contradict what is most clearly true. For if (as Mahomet himself declares many times) Jesus, the son of Mary, is the Christ, absolutely no doubt is left for one who understands the scriptures of the new and old Testament, that all the Saracens, and likewise the other infidels, are in a state of eternal damnation, especially since Christ himself in the Gospel says: “I am the way, the truth, and the life; no man comes to the Father except through me.” Indeed, all the Prophets have foretold and taught this, that Christ is the savior of the whole world, nor can anyone be saved unless he believe in him, so that in the time of the evangelical law, no man can please God unless he be truly Christian. Nor does faith alone suffice, but (according to the doctrine of Christ) it is necessary to serve the superglorious and incircumscribable God with all humility, patience, charity, and the other virtues. Finally, Christ says in the Gospel: “Unless a man has been reborn of water and the Holy Ghost, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.” Since therefore the Saracens were not regenerated from water and the Holy Ghost, that is, they are not baptized, it is certain that they are damned. And it suffices now to have touched upon these things, seeing that they shall be proved most clearly in what follows below.