I should have blogged on this before, but it has only just come to my attention. You will remember I recently drew your attention to the Uniting Church statement on Christian Jewish relations. In that post, I mentioned the following:
The whole issue of the continuing significance of God’s covenants with the Jewish people remains unclarified in Catholic teaching at this point – even though, I would contend, the broad outlines and boundaries of what we can say are very clear indeed. Things were stirred up a number of years ago by the document “Reflections on Covenant and Mission“, which seemed to claim a “two-fold path of salvation”, one through Christ for the Gentiles and one through the Mosaic Covenant for the Jewish people. Hence, the document concluded, Christians should not evangelise Jews. Both statements are very controversial, although you will find some in the Catholic Church today defending them as if they were official Catholic teaching. They are not – even though some official Catholics do teach them (if you get what I mean).
Well, there has been some development on that front, which happened at the June meeting fo the USCCB (I was on long service leave, so missed the fracka that resulted).
As a bit of background, last year (June 2008) the USCCB meeting voted to make a change to their Catechism in reference to this matter (the change has just been given Vatican recognitio a few weeks ago – things move slow in Rome…). That change is as follows:
United States Catholic Catechism for Adults
(Washington, D.C.: USCCB Publ., 2006)
Revision on pages 130-131
The Catholic Church also acknowledges her special relationship to the Jewish people. The Second Vatican Council declared that “this people remains most dear to God, for God does not repent of the gifts he makes nor of the calls he issues.” (LG, no. 16) When God called Abraham out of Ur, he promised to make of him a “great nation.” This began the history of God revealing his divine plan of salvation to a chosen people with whom he made enduring covenants. Thus the covenant that God made with the Jewish people through Moses remains eternally valid for them. At the same time, “remembering, then, her common heritage with the Jews, and moved not by any political consideration, but solely by the religious motivation of Christian charity, she [the Church] deplores all hatred, persecutions, and displays of anti-Semitism leveled at any time or from any source against the Jews.” (Second Vatican Council, Declaration on the Relation of the Church to Non-Christian Religions [Nostra Aetate; NA], no. 4)
The Catholic Church also acknowledges her special relationship to the Jewish people. The Second Vatican Council declared that “this people remains most dear to God, for God does not repent of the gifts he makes nor of the calls he issues.” (LG, no. 16) When God called Abraham out of Ur, he promised to make of him a “great nation.” To the Jewish people, whom God first chose to hear his Word, “belong the sonship, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship and the promises; to them belong the patriarchs, and of their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ.” (Rom 9: 4-5; cf. CCC, no. 839) At the same time, “remembering, then, her common heritage with the Jews, and moved not by any political consideration, but solely by the religious motivation of Christian charity, she [the Church] deplores all hatred, persecutions, and displays of anti-Semitism leveled at any time or from any source against the Jews.” (Second Vatican Council, Declaration on the Relation of the Church to Non-Christian Religions [Nostra Aetate; NA], no. 4)
Now when that change was suggested last year, there was some dismay expressed by Jewish groups and Catholics involved in dialogue with Jews in America. According to Daniel Burke of the Religion News Service “some Jewish leaders were perplexed” by the change. Burke reported:
[The change] puzzles Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League. “Why take a very simple sentence and replace it with a very complicated paragraph?” he asked. “When did the Catholic church decide that our covenant was finished?” Alan Berger, a professor of Holocaust studies at Florida Atlantic University, called the change the latest “in a long line of mixed symbols. It’s very troubling.”
In actual fact it is very simple, but we will get there in a moment. The even bigger news story was what happened at this year’s June meeting of the US Catholic Bishops. This time, the document “Reflections on Covenant and Mission” was in the Conference’s sights. At the end of the day, they released an extensive clarification of that document called: A NOTE ON AMBIGUITIES CONTAINED IN REFLECTIONS ON COVENANT AND MISSION. This “note” makes the following statements about Reflections on Covenant and Mission (emphases mine):
• When the document was originally published, it was mislabelled as a statement of the “Bishops’ Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs Committee and the National Council of Synagogues.”
• Reflections on Covenant and Mission is not an official statement of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops
• Reflections on Covenant and Mission was not subject to the same review process that official documents undergo.
• Nevertheless, some theologians, including Catholics, have treated the document as authoritative.
• The section in Reflections on Covenant and Mission representing Catholic thought contains some statements that are insufficiently precise and potentially misleading.
Therefore they make the following clarifications:
• Catholic evangelization relative to the Jews will take an “utterly unique” form—precisely because God has already established a particular relationship with the Jewish people, going back to the call of Abraham.
• It is incomplete and potentially misleading in this context [ie. the context of discussion about the evangelisation of Jewish people] to refer to the enduring quality of the covenant without adding that for Catholics Jesus Christ as the incarnate Son of God fulfills both in history and at the end of time the special relationship that God established with Israel.
• The clear acknowledgment of the relationship established by God with Israel prior to Jesus Christ needs to be accompanied by a clear affirmation of the Church’s belief that Jesus Christ in himself fulfills God’s revelation begun with Abraham and that proclaiming this good news to all the world is at the heart of her mission.
• In the proposition that interreligious dialogue is a form of evangelization that is “a mutually enriching sharing of gifts devoid of any intention whatsoever to invite the dialogue partner to baptism”, Reflections on Covenant and Mission develops a vision of evangelisation in which the core elements of proclamation and invitation to life in Christ seem virtually to disappear. The Christian dialogue partner is always giving witness to the following of Christ, to which all are implicitly invited.
• The Church respects religious freedom as well as freedom of conscience and does not have a policy that singles out the Jews as a people for conversion. However, in addition to the fact that she will always welcome “sincere individual converts from any tradition or people, including the Jewish people”, St. Paul’s complete teaching also refers to the inclusion of the Jewish people as whole in Christ’s salvation.
• Reflections on Covenant and Mission, however, renders even the possibility of individual conversion doubtful by the implication that it is generally not good for Jews to convert, nor for Catholics to do anything that might lead Jews to conversion because it threatens to eliminate “the distinctive Jewish witness”. This line of reasoning could lead some to conclude mistakenly that Jews have an obligation not to become Christian and that the Church has a corresponding obligation not to baptize Jews.
• The fulfillment of the covenants, indeed, of all God’s promises to Israel, is found only in Jesus Christ. By God’s grace, the right to hear this Good News belongs to every generation.
Now this “clarification” has been greeted with even more dismay by some in the Jewish and Catholic communities. Writing in the latest edition of “Ecumenical Trends” (Vol 38 No 8), long time participant and leader in the Jewish Catholic dialogue, Fr John T. Pawlikowski (in fact, one of the original authors of Reflections on Covenant and Mission), has written an article called “Catholic-Jewish Dialogue: The Road Remains Bumpy”. In this article he writes:
The document [Reflections] also elicited strong protest from certain conservative Catholic quarters, including a trenchant analysis from the late Cardinal Avery Dulles who spent his latter days trying to “correct” what he regarded as false interpretations of Vatican II on the Jewish question. Dulles, for example, began to question whether Nostra Aetate really asserted a continued covenantal inclusion for the Jewish people after Christ and insisted that we must continue to grapple with the apparent abolition of the Jewish covenant with the coming of Christ proclaimed in the Letter to the Hebrews. …
In recent months pressure was mounting on the Vatican and the USCCB to correct the so-called ambiguities in Reflections on Covenant and Mission and in other documents including a catechism. … Certainly it is the right and responsibility of CDF and the Bishops doctrinal committee to weigh in on such a document. In the context of genuine dialogue with the drafters their input would have been welcomed given that Reflections was originally proposed as a study document. Unfortunately no such dialogue occurred. As a result, we are left with a document that creates more ambiguities and results on the core question of finality in Christ and conversion of the Jews. …
Neither the issue of finality in Christ or the need to the conversion of all people are susceptible to easy resolution … but Nostra Aetate, the Pontifical Biblical Commission, and church leaders such as Cardinal Kasper has altered the way we need to think about these questions today. Regrettably these changes are not adequately reflected in the Bishops Doctrinal Commission’s statement, leaving our Jewish partners and many in the dialogue with continuing questions where Catholicism really stands on these issues within the Catholic-Jewish dialogue.
Another writer in the same edition of “Ecumenical Trends”, Ruth Langer (Associate Professor of Jewish Studies at Boston College), simply says of the USCCB’s “Note on Ambiguities”:
Its conclusion, that “the fulfilment of … all God’s promises to Israel is found only in Jesus Christ … the right to hear this good news belongs to every generation” sounds like a statement that God’s covenant with Israel is not valid and that those who love Jews will seek to remove them from their Judaism now.
If this is the case, then the inner discourse of the official Catholic community is a call for an annihilation of Judaism even as the public discourse — exemplified by Pope Benedict’s speeches in Israeli May 2009 — proclaims irrevocable commitment to the Second Vatican Council’s commitment to seek “genuine and lasting reconciliation.” Is there some failure of communication here? Or is there a failure of integrity?
Many Jews are confused.
I can understand many Jews being confused by these developments, especially when some Catholics have been less than honest about the truth of Catholic teaching. The fact is that the Catholic faith holds a “both/and” position in this regard, in much the same way that it does in many other areas. The “both/and” position entails a necessary tension, nevertheless both positions in this tension are crystal clear.
The USCCB outlined these two positions in their explanation of the changes to the catechism:
By making the change in the USCCA, there is not a change in the Church’s teaching.
Catholics believe that
 all previous covenants that God made with the Jewish people are fulfilled in Jesus Christ through the new covenant established through his sacrificial death on the cross…
 the Jewish people continue to live within the truth of the covenant made through Abraham, and that God continues to be faithful to them.
The USCCB’s clarification of the ambiguities in Reflections on Covenant and Mission expresses exactly the same both and position:
The  clear acknowledgment of the relationship established by God with Israel prior to Jesus Christ [which] needs to be accompanied by
 a clear affirmation of the Church’s belief that Jesus Christ in himself fulfills God’s revelation begun with Abraham and that proclaiming this good news to all the world is at the heart of her mission.
That tensions exist in this position is quite obvious. However both aspects of the position are perfectly clear and should not be the cause of any further confusion or anxiety. If there is an appearance that the Church seems to be giving mixed messages to the Jewish community, then this can be understood from the point of view that sometimes the Church speaks from one side of this “both/and” position and sometimes it speaks from the other side.
But is there any justification for the idea that the Church’s “inner discourse…is a call for an annihilation of Judaism”? Again, one must consider the two sides of the “both/and” position. The Catholic Church affirms God’s commitment and faithfulness to the Jewish people which he established in his covenants with them. But (and there is a “but”), he has expressed that commitment and faithfulness through the renewal of the covenant in Jesus Christ. The proclamation of this renewal was not proclaimed last of all but first of all to the Jews, and only then to the Gentiles. Today still, the Gospel is primarily addressed to Jews and only secondarily to the rest of humanity. To exclude the Jewish people from this proclamation today would be a denial of the very roots that Christianity has in the Jewish community. The point is that just as the proclamation of this renewed covenant in Jesus Christ had implications for the Jewish religion when it was first proclaimed, so it continues to have implications for the Jewish religion today.
Does this mean that by proclaiming the Gospel Catholics actively seek “the annihilation of Judaism”? The simple answer is “No”. It would be more true to say that we are seeking “the fulfilment” of Judaism. Christianity is not the fulfillment of Judaism – the Messiah (ie. the Christ) is. The fact is that Christianity proclaims as a present reality the very eschatological fulfillment which Judaism itself (at least historically) has always loked for with eager expectation: namely, the coming of the Messiah. The only argument between us concerns the identity of that Messiah…