On the Jewish Question: “There’s no confusion – it’s both/and.”

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

Prior version:

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)

New version:

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

[1] 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…

[2] 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 [1] clear acknowledgment of the relationship established by God with Israel prior to Jesus Christ [which] needs to be accompanied by

[2] 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…

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13 Comments

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13 responses to “On the Jewish Question: “There’s no confusion – it’s both/and.”

  1. Good points. It’s one thing to avoid singling out the Jews to be proselytized. Certainly a bad idea. It’s another thing to say that they don’t need to hear about Christ. It’s like denying Christ, but only when the Jews are concerned.

    Yet another fruit of political correctness gone too far, perhaps? 🙂

  2. An Liaig

    The relations between Christians and Jews are, it seems to me, unique in interfaith relations because they are, in many respects, a family affair and often all the more bitter because of it. Christians also claim Abraham as our father in faith. This idea that Jews must renounce their jewishness in order to become Christians is ridiculos and must be deeply offensive to Jewish Catholics. The conversion of the jewish people would not lead to their annihalation but to the completion of their glory. This idea has implications well beyond Christian/Jewish relations. When my ancestors became Christian they did not loose their Irishness nor did they loose their distinctive witness. Rather, this distinctivness found a new, wider, and more glorious exoression. How much more so for the Jewish people to whom the Word was first revealed.

    • All true, but of course, if they were to define their Jewishness as essentially “not being Christian”, then you see to become Christian means ipso facto to cease being a Jew.

      As for the special relationship, it is debateable whether one should even refer to Christian Jewish relations under the banner of “inter-religious”. The Second Vatican Council considered treated Judaism in the document on Ecumenism, but in the end wrote a separate document. As an after thought, they included the other religions in that as well, which then became Nostra Aetate – but even still, today, the relations with Jews is dealt with by the Ecumenism council in the Curia in Rome, not the Interreligious council.

      As for Christian Jews losing their Jewishness, there is a whole debate out there among Jewish Christians as to how much of the Synagogue faith and practice can still be observed. It raises the old Ebionite controversy all over again.

      • Son of Trypho

        Schutz

        I would like to add a few comments if I may:

        It might be more interesting to consider your earlier sentence in this light:

        “there is a whole debate out there among Jewish Christians as to how much of the Synagogue faith and practice MUST be observed.”

        Most Jewish Christians, and I can only speak from the Catholic perspective, would suggest that none of the practice is mandatory but is rather all optional and they choose what is appropriate for their own comfort level within their expression of faith.

        As to synagogue practice – I’m uncertain, again I understand it to be what the individual prefers. There are certainly parts of the Orthodox Jewish religious service which are from the Temple period or earlier which would be appropriate for prayer.

        I suspect that Catholic Jews, if they chose to have some form of synagogue ritual (aside from Mass which is a totally different issue), would have to formulate something that would be appropriate and would, I would hope at least, be suitably anachronistic to resemble pre-Mishnaic Judaism synagogue practice. (I am unaware of such an attempt being made though. I would not approve of some aping of existing synagogue rituals for a number of reasons)

        The issue concerning the Ebionites as far as I understand it, was that they believed that Christian Jews still had to live under the precepts of the Law including ritual practice etc. until the return of the Messiah.

        I cannot imagine that they would have expected Christian Gentiles to adopt those precepts (so in that way they were different from the Judaizers) however they seemed to have been perceived (incorrectly I should add) by a largely Gentile episcopacy and clergy as theologically deviant because of their different practices.

        There was also a manifest desire, on the part of the episcopacy and clergy which grew over the centuries, to clearly differentiate themselves from Jewry itself and I imagine they saw these types in a poor light (despite the fact that James himself would have advocated their position).

        • Son of Trypho

          I forgot one other thing that came to mind – there are some views amongst Christian Jews who do follow precepts from the Law (which as I have noted earlier are not required if understood in an orthodox theological sense) that they do so because they are appropriate for them as Jews to observe to honour Hashem. This is why many of the negative prohibitions are maintained (eg. dietary) despite no requirement to do so.

          • I would want to acknowledge a difference here between Catholic Jews and Protestant Jews. Catholic Jews (who either no longer self identify with their Jewishness at all, or who are generally represented by the Association of Hebrew Catholics), fully accept the doctrine and ritual of the Catholic Church. Amongst the non-Catholic Jewish Christians there is, from what I have read, a distinct and sharp disagreement about their identity and relationship with the “Gentile” Church. Some would regard the Law has “MUST be kept”, although this seems to us to be entirely counter to St Paul and the Early Church’s witness.

  3. An Liaig

    I think it would be good to hear from jewish catholics on this. While we can discuss this intellectually, they must live with these tensions and possibilities every day. This is very different from discussions which we, the church, may have with, say, Hindus where we expect them to be different so that when we find points of agreement or similarity, they come as a pleasant surprise. The Jews are a part of our own salvation history so that the agreements are expected and the disagreements cause pain. This pain has been a constant part of each group’s history from apostolic times on and it is this which is the basis of the bitterness between them. This history of bitterness, in turn, is a powerful, even dominant, factor in both the inter and intra faith discussions. This is why we need to be very clear about our stance.

  4. Matthias

    i agree An Liaig and Schutz those Jews who become Christians count the cost not only in changing faith but also in the practices of their faith,and must at first wonder what part of the Synagogue they have to leave and what will stay,without falling into the trap of the Judaisers that Peter and Paul came to argue about.

  5. hopelens

    Excellent and insightful post. I do wonder about the last sentence though; “The only argument between us concerns the identity of that Messiah…” You must also and hence the “…” There is “more” to be said and that “more” constitutes/creates further “tension.” Hence “here we are.” And where is that, truly? How are we any further along the road?

    • Yes, I am a little prone to using the “…” in terms of “let the reader understand”.

      I think recognising our common origins and identifying the exact point at issue between us is already a step forward, even if it does not seem to bring us actually closer to a resolution.

      In truth, I do not expect a “resolution” to take place this side of the eschaton. Rather, I hope that we learn to understand eachother a little better and be a bit slower to react against one another in the future.

  6. M. Forrest

    David,

    I appreciate your treatment of this timely and important topic. You may be interested in an article I wrote with David Palm on this as well:

    http://www.cuf.org/Laywitness/LWonline/ja09forrest.asp

  7. matthias

    Interesting point Schutz “The only argument between us concerns the identity of that Messiah”
    I am currently reading the BOOKS OF ENOCH,and there the writers-Apocalyptists- being preachers of righteousness,look forward to the Messiah , and also make refrence to the messiah as the SON OF GOD.
    What is also interersting is the Universalism of this book-Gentiles and jews will share a new creation if they have been righteous.