"Spiritually, we are all Semites" – an article by Schütz in Kairos


The following article (published here in our local Archdiocesan Rag) is in reference to Pope Benedict’s address to a Jewish delegation in Paris. In a very short speech, I think he points the way on the vexed question of the “two covenants” in Jewish Christian relations.

During a brief meeting at the apostolic nunciature in Paris with representatives of the Jewish community, Pope Benedict XVI reminded both Catholics and Jews of the famous remark made by Pope Pius XI: “Spiritually, we are Semites”.

The Pope also recalled the understanding of Henri de Lubac (theologian and later cardinal), “that to be anti-Semitic also meant to be anti-Christian”. Both de Lubac and Pope Pius XI were speaking during the years leading up to World War II, a time when anti-Semitism was rampant in Europe.

Catholic-Jewish relations have come a long way since then, especially since the landmark decree of Vatican II, Nostra Aetate, yet the relationship between the two faiths is still searching for a solid theological footing.

Pope Benedict XVI alluded to this when he spoke of the Church’s respect for “the Covenant established by God with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob” and went on to say that the Church “places herself … in the eternal Covenant of the Almighty … and respects the children of the Promise, children of the Covenant, as her beloved brothers in the faith”

There is considerable discussion among Catholics involved in dialogue with Jews about our mutual Covenant relationships with God. Has the New Covenant in the Death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ superseded the Old Covenant that God made by giving the Torah to the Jews at Sinai? Or are there ‘two covenants’, both current and both equally valid for salvation: the Sinai Covenant for Jews and the Covenant in Christ for Gentiles? Both ideas have been put forward, but neither reflects the full authentic teaching of the Church.

In this greeting offered to the Jewish community in France, the Holy Father offers some way forward in this discussion. Instead of speaking about the Torah Covenant (which St Paul teaches was “until Christ came” Gal 3:24), he speaks of the Covenant that was “established by God with Abraham”. St Paul called the heirs of the Covenant with Abraham the “Children of the Promise” (Gal 4:28).

Pope Benedict XVI refers to the Covenant with Abraham as an “eternal Covenant” and reminds Jews and Catholics alike that the Church also considers herself to be an heir of this Covenant. It is because “Christ redeemed us … that the blessing of Abraham might come (also) upon the Gentiles” (Gal 3:14). Only Jews are children of God’s Covenant with Abraham by birth, but spiritually, as Pius XI said, Catholics are also the children of Abraham.

Thus, while all racism is an evil condemned by the Church in the light of the fact that all human beings are children of Adam, anti-Semitism is condemned on the additional grounds that the Jewish people are our spiritual brothers and sisters in the household of Abraham.

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17 responses to “"Spiritually, we are all Semites" – an article by Schütz in Kairos

  1. Sharon

    Has the New Covenant in the Death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ superseded the Old Covenant that God made by giving the Torah to the Jews at Sinai? Or are there ‘two covenants’, both current and both equally valid for salvation: the Sinai Covenant for Jews and the Covenant in Christ for Gentiles? Both ideas have been put forward, but neither reflects the full authentic teaching of the Church.

    What exactly does the Church teach about this matter?

  2. Anonymous

    Anti-semetism may be unchristiam, but anti-Talmudism isn’t.

  3. Schütz

    Sharon, that’s the problem. It is a theology in the making.

    This probably needs a whole blog on its own, but for what it is worth, here is the potted version.

    For centuries a simple (simplistic) and rather unscriptural doctrine of “supercessionism” held sway, namely that God’s covenant with the jewish people is null and void now that the new covenant in Christ has come. Thus the Church is the new, true and only Israel. The Jews as a result were treated like one of God’s cast offs.

    This was never the official teaching of the Church. It was the accepted idea in the heads of most Christians – Catholic or otherwise.

    A real rethinking began following the Second World War and the horror of the Holocaust. Was Christian supercessionism to blame (even in part) for this horror? Many claimed that it was.

    In any case, the Church at Vatican II (in Nostra Aetate) definitively turned its back on this attitude.

    In particular, it recognised:

    1) the common spiritual bond that ties “the people of the New Covenant to Abraham’s stock”

    2) the origin of the Church’s faith in the faith of “the Patriarchs, Moses and the prophets.”

    3) “that all who believe in Christ-Abraham’s sons according to faith-are included in the same Patriarch’s call”

    4) that the Church “received the revelation of the Old Testament through the people with whom God in His inexpressible mercy concluded the Ancient Covenant.”

    5) that Church “draws sustenance” from the roots of the Jewish people

    6) that “by His cross Christ, Our Peace, reconciled Jews and Gentiles. making both one in Himself.”

    7) that according to St Paul (Rom 9) the following continue to belong to the Jewish People: “the sonship and the glory and the covenants and the law and the worship and the promises” and that “from them is the Christ according to the flesh”

    8) that although many of the Jewish people did not receive Christ at the time of his coming “Nevertheless, God holds the Jews most dear for the sake of their Fathers; He does not repent of the gifts He makes or of the calls He issues” (citing St Paul again on this)

    9) that “the Church awaits that day, known to God alone, on which all peoples will address the Lord in a single voice and “serve him shoulder to shoulder” (Soph. 3:9)

    10) and finally that “Although the Church is the new people of God, the Jews should not be presented as rejected or accursed by God, as if this followed from the Holy Scriptures.”

    So much for the theology of the relationship between the two religions. There have been some statements since, but this is and remains the basic position of the Church. John Paul II famously refered to the Jewish people as our “elder brothers”.

    As you can see, while on the one hand this rejects simple supercessiionism, but there is still the note that the Church, arising out of Israel and intending to one day embrace the whole of the Jewish people as one people under Christ, is the “new people of God”.

    Over the following decades, among many theologians working in dialogue with Jews the idea arose (somewhat ill defined) that the covenant with the Jewish people was nevertheless salvific for the faithful Jew. This idea is understandable in the light of the above, but required some more work.

    Then in 2002 a group called the “Consultation of the National Council of Synagogues and
    the [US Conference of Catholic Bishops] Bishops Committee for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs” created a stir with a document called “Reflections on Covenant and Mission”, which openly proclaimed that the Sinai Covenant of God with the Jews had continuing salvific validity for the Jewish people while the Covenant in Jesus Christ was for (and only to be proclaimed to) the Gentiles. Hence, according to this document, Christians should completely reject the practice of evangelising Jews.

    The reaction to this document showed that they had clearly gone too far, and that this was not the authentic teaching of the Church.

    Since then there has been a lot of debate and no clear resolution.

    However, I regard Benedict’s statement as pointing the way to a future possible resolution – a way completely consistent with Scripture but also open and respectful to our “older brothers” (and, perhaps more to point, respectful of God’s promises to them).

    This is to regard the Abrahamic Covenant as the covenant which has continuing validity for both the Jewish people and the Christian Church. Jews belong to this covenant by birth – Gentiles enter this same covenant through faith in Jesus Christ.

    That is not an entirely satisfactory statement on its own, because the Jewish people obviously regard the Sinai Covenant as the confirming sign of membership in this Abrahamic covenant (a Jew who doesn’t keep Torah is outside the covenant). Christians (whether Jewish or Gentile) believe that true spiritual membership in the family of Abraham depends on Faith in Christ, not on the Sinai Torah.

    That’s about where it stands. There is a lot of work yet to be done.

  4. Past Elder

    From twenty years as a Righteous of the Nations in Orthodox Judaism, I would find it unbelievably arrogant of Christians to think that, having completely misunderstood what the Messiah is, and therefore having completely mistakenly identifed who he is, and having strained a loose basis in Hebrew prophecy through pagan mystery cults, they should in any way see themselves as “spiritual Semites” or in some line from Abraham — the Akedah with Isaac clearly showing that human sacrifice is utterly repugnant to God therefore he is not about to become human to do it anyway — and pass off the arrogance as unintentional but resulting from the depth of their misperceptions about the faith of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, not to mention that revealed to Moses.

  5. Schütz

    If I understand what you are saying, PE (and I am not sure that I do), I presume you are joking?

  6. Past Elder

    Hardly. If Judaism is right, Christianity is a complete falsification of the Law and Scripture, particularly Messianic prophecy, therefore to adhere to it hardly makes one a “spiritual Semite”.

    Forgiveness of sin does happen under the Law, the Messiah has nothing whatever to do with that or the afterlife, making the Good News no news at all.

    Which is not to say unfurl the banners and engage, not at all. One can respect another’s belief even when quite clear that it is wrong, and indeed co-operate on moral and social issues where positions overlap.

    But religious professionals trying to find some way to find each other equally OK despite religions that fundamentally contradict each other disrespects what is sacred in either religion.

  7. Schütz

    This isn’t actually so much about trying to “respect” Judaism (after all, we “respect” Buddhism, Zoroastrianism, etc.), and far less “trying to find some way to find each other equally OK despite religions that fundamentally contradict each other”, as acknowledging what the witness of our own faith (and scripture) is concerning the objective place of the People of Israel in the divine plan of salvation.

  8. Past Elder

    This isn’t clear enough from, say, the Letter to the Hebrews, the “urbi et orbi” on the first Shavuot after Jesus rose, and the Council of Jerusalem?

  9. Christine

    Oh, let’s have a little fun with this one — I have my own opinion, but let’s hear others —

    Romans 11:25-36

    All Israel Will Be Saved

    25 So that you may not claim to be wiser than you are, brothers and sisters, I want you to understand this mystery: a hardening has come upon part of Israel, until the full number of the Gentiles has come in.

    26 And so all Israel will be saved; as it is written,

    ‘Out of Zion will come the Deliverer; he will banish ungodliness from Jacob.’

    27 ‘And this is my covenant with them, when I take away their sins.’

    28 As regards the gospel they are enemies of God for your sake; but as regards election they are beloved, for the sake of their ancestors;

    29 for the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable.

    30 Just as you were once disobedient to God but have now received mercy because of their disobedience,

    31 so they have now been disobedient in order that, by the mercy shown to you, they too may now receive mercy.

    32 For God has imprisoned all in disobedience so that he may be merciful to all.

    33 O the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgements and how inscrutable his ways!

    34 ‘For who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counsellor?’

    35 ‘Or who has given a gift to him,
    to receive a gift in return?’

    36 For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be the glory for ever. Amen.

  10. Past Elder

    This passage is often understood to say that the Gentiles and the Jews have enchanged, as it were, periods of cpiritual blindness, we Gentiles being blind under the old covenant, and the Jews now being blind under the new, each blindness serving the other, so that, when the Gentiles are fully brought in, so will the Jews be also.

    Therefore they’re OK and don’t need to believe the Gospel now or have it preached to them since they’ll come out all right in the end anyway.

  11. Christine

    No, I don’t think so. I think a careful reading shows that SOME Jews will embrace the Gospel and be saved. Just as only SOME Gentiles will believe the Gospel.

    The concept of the “remnant” is very clear throughout Scripture; after the close of the prophetic period in Israel for all practical purposes the Blessed Virgin and John the Baptist are the waiting, faithful “remnant” that ushers in the New Covenant. And of course St. Paul cautions Gentile Christians to maintain their humility since we are the wild branches that have been grafted in.

    It’s actually surprising how many Jews have converted to some form of Christianity or other. St. Edith Stein, of course, is one of the more notable converts to Catholicism but there are others in many Christian traditions.

    When God promised that in Abraham all the families of the earth would be blessed it seems to me that it includes his ancient people Israel.

    And then, it it always before me that the humanity that the Lord Jesus assumed was specific to a certain people, time and place — it will always be the Jewish humanity of His Mother. That Jewish humanity now reigns in glory in the divine/human perfect unity of the God Man.

    So yes, in a very real sense Christians are spiritually Semites.

  12. Past Elder

    Maybe to some Christians. I would think it will be a pretty hard sell to some Jews. As my rabbi put it to me, we are not waiting for the second person of the Trinity to become incarnate, and we are not waiting for someone who says (putting on his “Terminator” voice) I’ll be baaack. Again, from this point of view, finding a loose basis in Hebrew Scripture for another pagan mystery cult about another dying and rising god hardly makes one a spiritual Semite.

    On a side note, we were taught that the words of institution at Mass are a composite of the four accounts from Scripture, pro vobis et pro multis, pro vobis being “for you” and pro multis, while word for word is “for many”, in Jesus’ usage, and given the lack of a definite srticle in Latin, translates as “for The Many”, a reference to the remnant spoken of by Isaias and others, so the words of institution combined speak both to the Remnant as a whole, and those of the Remnant present directly.

    Rome, ever ready to do Jesus one better and come out with what he really meant all doctrinally developed and all, did not translate this even from the novus ordo, where we got, knowing Jesus “really meant” everyone of course, good old huggy bear that he was, “for all men”, but then they got all politically correct and feministically chastised, so it became “for all”.

    Neither of course is the words of Jesus, the Verba. Not only does it say something he did not say, it does not say something he did. Whether the new translations correct this means nothing. That this church should let an entire generation, forty some years, go by ignoring the actual words of Christ for its imagined fantasies at the heart and soul of the Mass itself is not some “Babylonian Captivity” but the Whore of Babylon at its worst.

  13. Christine

    As to your rabbi, most American rabbis are so focused on trying to keep the intermarriage rate down that they don’t have a whole lot of time to worry about how modern Judaism should relate to Christianity (save for the minority Orthodox Jewish community). A very high percentage of American Jews are secular and don’t even concern themselves with the issues you raise unless anti-Semitism rears its ugly head on legitimate issues .

    Since Jesus is my Brother as well as my Savior in the Abrahamic and Davidic line, humanly speaking, I am proud to consider myself a “spiritual Semite” and that you disagree doesn’t concern me in the slightest.

    As for the rest of your post you’ve stated those positions so many times before here they are not worth addressing.

  14. Past Elder

    The old “if he doesn’t agree with Rome there must be something wrong with him so don’t examine what he says” is alive and well.

    Great Zeus Cloudgatherer, my comments had nothing to do about you or any other Christian wanting to consider yourself a spiritual Semite, let alone voice disagreement with that. The point was, don’t expect a religious Semite to take that seriously, or start calling you “younger brothers”. It’s a Christian idea, not a common bond. As a Christian I agree with it; as a Righteous of the Nations it is a conceit forgivable because it is unintended.

    My rabbi was Orthodox, in fact. I left that out without thinking, as all rabbis are Orthodox, and the rest “clergypeople”.

  15. Christine

    The old “if he doesn’t agree with Rome there must be something wrong with him so don’t examine what he says” is alive and well.

    No, PE, that’s not it at all. Over the last couple of months I’ve examined very carefully my decision to remain Catholic and I am satisfied with it.

    The problem is that most of your posts are just a constant rehash of your prior posts. For instance, that your Rabbi was Orthodox — I think we are well aware of that as you’ve mentioned it numerous times as well as your opinion that the Catholic Church is the “whore of Babylon”.

    THAT’s what’s getting old. So pardon me if I disengage from your posts (but not from this Catholic blog) until you come up with something that interests me.

  16. Past Elder

    Well gee whiz, when someone leads off with “as to your rabbi” and proceeds to explain how most rabbis are too concerned about the intermarriage rate to bother with whether Christians are spiritual Semites or not, patenthetically adding unless they’re Orthodox, it kind of comes across as needing to be pointed out that the rabbi is Orthodox and would not find that a factor to use to dismiss him as a “minority”.

    I was not aware that we had discussed the idea of Christians being spiritual Semites before, and so often as to be a rehash. Maybe it was my double posting, or a parallel reality.

    As to the Whore of Babylon, it might be worth considering that a church which on the one hand can go on about lack of historical canons and stripping down to the Verba only, and on the other can’t even get the Verba right in its canons, well ….

    The point wasn’t about WOB, it was about the Verba.

    But missing the point, or more exactly refusing to see any other points apart from those from Rome, and making any such points about the person rather than the issue, dismissing as personal opinion what the RCC once taught but no longer teaches, etc is a lot of what it takes to “remain Catholic” though Catholic no longer exists to remain, and is really old to me.

  17. Past Elder

    Hey, what kind of links you got here anyway. My wrist hit mouse button touch pad keys and I ended up here

    http://www.nacdlgm.org/nac_aboutus.html

    Nice to know the School Sisters of Notre Dame supply them with brochures.