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 Has the New Covenant in the Death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ superseded the Old Covenant that God made by giving the Torah to the Jews at Sinai?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.