Both Christianity and Islam claim the Virgin Mary, but most Christians throughout history have seen her as a barrier between the two religions, not a bridge. In the medieval period, Latin Christians noted errors in Qurʾānic Mariology and raised standards of the Virgin in wars against Muslims. By the sixteenth century, the use of Mary as an interfaith barrier escalated among Catholics who employed her to combat both Ottomans and Protestants. Yet two medieval churchmen, William of Tripoli and Nicholas of Cusa, stressed concord between Christian and Muslim Mariologies, despite the fact that they were both writing at times of great interreligious strife: William soon before the fall of Acre in 1291, and Nicholas soon after the fall of Constantinople in 1453. This article discusses how William and Nicholas, unlike most of their confreres, saw Mary as a theological link between Islam and Christianity. This perspective represents but one point in the historical trajectory of Christian views of Mary vis-à-vis Islam, a spectrum which has shifted from seeing the Virgin as either a bridge or barrier, depending on her polemical or irenic utility.
Polemic and Dialogue in the Late Middle Ages
Edited by Ian Christopher Levy, Rita George-Tvrtković and Donald Duclow
This collection of essays explores the complex relations between Christians and Muslims at the dawn of the modern age. It begins by examining two seminal works by Nicholas of Cusa: De pace fidei, a dialogue seeking peace among world religions written after the conquest of Constantinople in 1453, and Cribratio Alkorani (1460-61), an attempt to confirm Gospel truths through a critical reading of the Qur’an. After considering Nicholas, his sources, and his context, the book explores a wider range of late medieval texts on Christian-Muslim relations—not only Christian writings about Islam but also Muslim responses to Christianity. The book’s focus is historical, but it can also contribute to efforts at increasing Muslim-Christian understanding today.