Skip to content

WHO SPEAKS FOR THE CHURCH? THAT QUESTION WILL HAVE TO BE ANSWERED AGAIN AND AGAIN AS SO MANY INDIVIDUALS AND GROUPS APPEAR TO BE SPEAKING AUTHORITATIVELY FOR THE CHURCH

June 30, 2009

REFLECTIONS ON COVENANT AND MISSION REVISITED

Seven years later,
the USCCB [now] addresses
one of the more embarrassing and controversial documents
in recent memory,
“Reflections on Covenant and Mission,”
originally released on August 12, 2002,
by delegates from the Bishops’ Committee on Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs (BCEIA),
a sub-committee of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB),
and the National Council of Synagogues.

It created quite a sensation [in 2002 and afterwards] and was presented by many in the media as an official document declaring, in essence, that not only were Catholics not to evangelize Jews, the Old Covenant was just as valid as the New Covenant established by Jesus Christ. The Boston Globe, for example, ran the headline, “Catholics reject evangelization of Jews” the following day. In this case, the media could not be criticized for misrepresentation or hyperbole, for the document was a mess of ambiguity, confused theology, and, dare I say, outright falsehoods. (For some helpful background and context, see Christopher Blosser’s page about the document and the resulting controversy the Ratzinger Fan Club site.)

When the document came out, I was working at editor of Envoy magazine. I wrote a piece about it, stating:

Before looking at some of the problems with “Reflections On Covenant and Mission,” it must be pointed out that the document carries little, if any, authoritative weight. It is, after all, a reflection, not a papal encyclical or declaration from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. In fact, after the first wave of media attention and controversy, Cardinal William Keeler, the U.S. Bishops’ Moderator for Catholic-Jewish relations, took pains to point out that the document was not authoritative and  “does not represent a formal position taken by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) or the Bishops’ Committee for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs (BCEIA). The purpose of publicly issuing the considerations which it contains is to encourage serious reflection on these matters by Jews and Catholics in the U.S.” (Accessed at http://www.ncbuscc.org. Dated Aug. 16, 2002).

Unfortunately, most people, including many Catholics, do not understand the various levels of authority attached to different official Catholic documents. They do not always understand that there is a huge difference between a dogmatic constitution or papal encyclical, and the reflections of a USCCB sub-committee. Although such reflections can be important and may benefit the Church in different ways, they are not infallible and they do not necessarily reflect the teaching of the Universal Church. Such reflections can even contradict the established doctrine of the Catholic Church.

What’s The Point?

The document is part of an ongoing, twenty year long interreligious dialogue between the USCCB and certain Jewish groups. One of its goals is to state that “campaigns that target Jews for conversion to Christianity are no longer theologically acceptable in the Catholic Church.” Although this is somewhat ambiguous, the delegates are apparently referring to coercive or aggressive forms of proselytism that do not respect the religious freedom of the individual. Of course, it would be difficult to find many Catholics today who support the forced baptisms and conversions that sometimes took place in past centuries.

The document also reflects on the relationship between the Old and New Covenants.  Quotes from Pope John Paul II explain that Jews are “the people of God of the Old Covenant, never revoked by God,” “the present-day people of the covenant concluded with Moses,” and “partners in a covenant of eternal love which was never revoked.” This might surprise some readers, but this recognition of God’s faithfulness to His covenant with the Jews has been the consistent teaching of the Catholic Church. This is based, in part, on St. Paul’s teaching in chapter 9 through 11 of his Epistle to the Romans.

The more difficult issue, which the document seeks to address, is what this recognition of the Old Covenant means for evangelistic efforts by Catholics. Put bluntly, do Jews need Jesus? Is it wrong for Catholics to tell Jews that Jesus is the one Lord and Savior? Do Jews need to be baptized and become Christian? In addressing these questions the document becomes confusing and contradictory.

Those confusing and contradictory qualities have now been addressed officially in a four-page document, “A Note on Ambiguities Contained in Reflections on Covenant and Mission” (PDF document), released on June 18, 2009, by the Committee on Doctrine and Committee on Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. The accompanying statement says,
Bishop William Lori, chairman of the Bishops’ Committee on Doctrine and Pastoral Practice, stated that there were two key points at issue.

“The USCCB reaffirms what the Holy See has stated repeatedly: that while the Catholic Church does not proselytize the Jewish people, neither does she fail to witness to them her faith in Christ, nor to welcome them to share in that same faith whenever appropriate.” Bishop Lori said. He added that current debates over the question of how Catholics understand the covenant with Moses in relation to Christ were equally important. The covenant with Moses, that continues to be adhered to by Jews today, is fulfilled, Christians believe, in Jesus.

“As followers of Jesus, we see his covenant as fulfilling God’s plan for the salvation of all peoples, both now and at the end of time,” Bishop Lori said.

Archbishop Gregory commended the on-going work of scholars and pastors in Catholic-Jewish dialogue. “Pope John Paul II once referred to Jews as ‘our elder brothers and sisters in faith’”, he said. “By continuing our study together, we hope to deepen our understanding of Jesus and our relationship with each other in God’s redemption of the world.”

The note itself states:
Since Reflections on Covenant and Mission is not an official statement of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, it was not subject to the same review process that official documents undergo. In the years since its publication, however, some theologians, including Catholics, have treated the document as authoritative. This has proven problematic because the section representing Catholic thought contains some statements that are insufficiently precise and potentially misleading. Reflections on Covenant and Mission should not be taken as an authoritative presentation of the teaching of the Catholic Church. In order to avoid any confusion, the USCCB Committee on Doctrine and the Committee on Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs have decided to point out some of these ambiguities and to offer corresponding clarifications.

Here are some of those issues, as stated in the clarifying document:
• The document [Reflections on Covenant and Mission] correctly acknowledges that “Judaism is a religion that springs from divine revelation”5 and that “it is only about Israel’s covenant that the Church can speak with the certainty of the biblical witness.”6 Nevertheless, it is incomplete and potentially misleading in this context 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. (par. 5)

• Reflections on Covenant and Mission provides a clear acknowledgment of the relationship established by God with Israel prior to Jesus Christ. This acknowledgment needs to be accompanied, however, 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. (par. 6)

• Reflections on Covenant and Mission, however, renders even the possibility of individual conversion doubtful by a further statement that implies 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”… (par. 9)

When I first read Reflections on Covenant and Mission nearly seven years ago, I was struck by the fact that it avoided any mention whatsoever of Dominus Iesus, the CDF document issued just two years earlier, on August 6, 2000, by then-prefect Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger. That important document was, of course, very controversial; one reason is that it thoroughly dismissed the sort of ambiguous, fuzzy, and flighty theological noodlings that claimed (often in with an indirect and overly academic fogginess) Jesus Christ is not the unique Son of God, sole Savior of mankind, and only way to God the Father. It is, I think, an essential document for Catholics to read carefully, for it shines a bright light into the many doubting and even dissenting corners often found in both Catholic schools and parishes. Here is what I wrote about it and Reflections back in 2002:

What About Dominus Iesus?

Although the Catholic Reflection in the document contains twenty-five footnotes, not one of them quotes Dominus Iesus, the controversial “Declaration on the Unicity and Salvific Universality of Jesus Christ and the Church” issued by Cardinal Ratzinger and the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith in August 2000. That important document was confirmed by Pope John Paul II and carries substantial doctrinal weight. It is a cogent, unambiguous explanation of what the Church teaches about Jesus Christ, His centrality as Savior, the mission of the Church, and the relationship between the Church and other religions. You can access the entire document here.

In light of the confusion over the “Reflections on Covenant and Mission,” I would like to quote a few sections from Dominus Iesus at length. The first clearly affirms the unique and singular work of Jesus Christ, and the importance of entering the Church through baptism:

Above all else, it must be firmly believed that “the Church, a pilgrim now on earth, is necessary for salvation: the one Christ is the mediator and the way of salvation; he is present to us in his body which is the Church. He himself explicitly asserted the necessity of faith and baptism (cf. Mk 16:16; Jn 3:5), and thereby affirmed at the same time the necessity of the Church which men enter through baptism as through a door”. This doctrine must not be set against the universal salvific will of God (cf. 1 Tim 2:4); “it is necessary to keep these two truths together, namely, the real possibility of salvation in Christ for all mankind and the necessity of the Church for this salvation”. (Dominus Iesus, 20)

The second quote addresses the question of how non-Christians might be saved. It emphasizes that the Church can never be seen as one possible way of salvation among many, nor can any other religion be seen as equally valid and substantive as Christianity:

With respect to the way in which the salvific grace of God — which is always given by means of Christ in the Spirit and has a mysterious relationship to the Church — comes to individual non-Christians, the Second Vatican Council limited itself to the statement that God bestows it “in ways known to himself”.  Theologians are seeking to understand this question more fully.  Their work is to be encouraged, since it is certainly useful for understanding better God’s salvific plan and the ways in which it is accomplished. However, from what has been stated above about the mediation of Jesus Christ and the “unique and special relationship” which the Church has with the kingdom of God among men — which in substance is the universal kingdom of Christ the Saviour — it is clear that it would be contrary to the faith to consider the Church as one way of salvation alongside those constituted by the other religions, seen as complementary to the Church or substantially equivalent to her, even if these are said to be converging with the Church toward the eschatological kingdom of God. (Dominus Iesus, 21)

While other religions do contain many elements of truth, they do not possess an equal assurance of the means of salvation:

If it is true that the followers of other religions can receive divine grace, it is also certain that objectively speaking they are in a gravely deficient situation in comparison with those who, in the Church, have the fullness of the means of salvation. (Dominus Iesus, 22)

Finally, in addressing interreligious dialogue, Dominus Iesus again stresses the unique nature of Jesus Christ, the need of all men for the Church, and the vital place of the sacraments in the work of salvation:

In inter-religious dialogue as well, the mission ad gentes “today as always retains its full force and necessity”.  “Indeed, God ‘desires all men to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth’ (1 Tim 2:4); that is, God wills the salvation of everyone through the knowledge of the truth. Salvation is found in the truth. Those who obey the promptings of the Spirit of truth are already on the way of salvation. But the Church, to whom this truth has been entrusted, must go out to meet their desire, so as to bring them the truth. Because she believes in God’s universal plan of salvation, the Church must be missionary”. Inter-religious dialogue, therefore, as part of her evangelizing mission, is just one of the actions of the Church in her mission ad gentes. Equality, which is a presupposition of inter-religious dialogue, refers to the equal personal dignity of the parties in dialogue, not to doctrinal content, nor even less to the position of Jesus Christ — who is God himself made man — in relation to the founders of the other religions. Indeed, the Church, guided by charity and respect for freedom, must be primarily committed to proclaiming to all people the truth definitively revealed by the Lord, and to announcing the necessity of conversion to Jesus Christ and of adherence to the Church through Baptism and the other sacraments, in order to participate fully in communion with God, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Thus, the certainty of the universal salvific will of God does not diminish, but rather increases the duty and urgency of the proclamation of salvation and of conversion to the Lord Jesus Christ. (Dominus Iesus, 22)

Not surprisingly, the recent note of clarification is already being criticized by the Anti-Defamation League:
“This document, if taken at face value, reintroduces the notion that Catholics can use interfaith dialogue as a means to invite Jews to Christian baptism,” said Abraham H. Foxman, ADL National Director.  “If so, then it is unacceptable, for such a statement would foster mistrust between Jews and Catholics and undermine years of work building a positive relationship based on mutual trust and respect of our differences in faith.”

Foxman’s argument, as it were, is nonsensical. How, exactly, does the potential for an invitation “foster mistrust”? On the contrary, authentic trust—whether in interreligious dialogue or anything else—can only be based on truth and honesty. The Catholic Church believes and teaches that Jesus Christ is the Incarnate Word of God and the unique Savior of mankind. That belief cannot be set aside and treated as though it either doesn’t exist or has no meaning for a dialogue about what Catholics and others believe. If Mr. Foxman is afraid that Jews will be coerced into becoming Catholic, he is paranoid and overreacting. If he is afraid that some Jews might actually be attracted to the Catholic Faith, he is insecure. If he thinks the Catholic Church should change her beliefs because of his hypersensitivities, he is arrogant and disrespectful. If he thinks the Catholic belief about Jesus Christ and salvation is unimportant, he is clueless.

How often, by the way, do you hear of the Catholic Church complaining that Jews, Buddhists, Muslims, Hindus, Protestants, and other groups should not express their belief that they possess the truth?

Finally, two good books by Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger related to these issues are Many Religions, One Covenant and Truth and Tolerance: Christian Belief and World Religions.

UPDATE: Dr. Jeff Mirus does a nice job explaining the significance and unusual character of the note of clarification.

by Carl Olson
Tuesday, June 23, 2009
THE IGNATIUS PRESS BLOG

*******************************************************

A Significant USCCB Self-Correction
Jun. 23, 2009
by Dr. Jeff Mirus
CATHOLIC CULTURE . ORG  Commentary

Last Thursday’s publication of “A Note on Ambiguities Contained in Reflections on Covenant and Mission” marks a very significant step in the renewal of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. The “Note” clarified the doctrinal ambiguities in an ecumenical statement on Catholic-Jewish relations issued under Cardinal William Keeler back in 2002. For several years, Cardinal Keeler had served as the USCCB Moderator for Catholic-Jewish Relations, overseeing among other things an ongoing dialogue between the Catholic Church and the Jewish community in the United States.

There was nothing wrong with publishing the results of that dialogue, which was correctly identified as representing not a “formal position” of the Conference but rather “the state of thought among the participants.” This was enough to give it historical interest. But what was wrong was the failure to publish an official Catholic commentary along with it, a commentary to show that the ecumenical understanding reached by the participants did not fully satisfy the demands of the Catholic Faith.

Because of this failure, the inevitable happened. Theologians started referring to Reflections on Covenant and Mission as authoritative. Still, after all this time the statement could easily have been ignored. That the USCCB’s Committee on Doctrine and Committee on Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs should seek formally to compensate for the statement’s weaknesses seven years later is a tribute to how far the US bishops have come in their commitment to Catholic teaching.

According to the “Note”, the “principal ambiguities in question involved the description of the Church’s mission and, in particular, what evangelization means with regard to the Jewish peopple.” As you would expect, there was a great reluctance to state that Jesus Christ is the fulfillment of the Covenant between God and Israel, and that both individual Jews and the Jewish people as a whole are called to embrace Christ. Granted, the Jewish case is different than that of the gentiles, for the Jews already had a legitimate Divine Revelation when Christ came. Thus while the gentiles were called to accept the Revelation of Jesus Christ without ever living under the Old Covenant, the Jews were called—as it were—to mature into the New Covenant which so gloriously fulfilled the Old.

This reluctance led the Doctrine and Ecumenical committies to find Reflections on Covenant and Mission incomplete, ambiguous and even erroneous on the following five counts:

1. The document is incomplete and misleading to acknowledge that “Judaism is a religion that springs from divine revelation” in such a way that the “enduring quality of the covenant” is emphasized “without adding that “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.” (#5)
2. Similarly, the document ought not to have acknowledged “the relationship established by God with Israel prior to Jesus Christ” without adding “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.” (#6)
3. In attempting to define the Church’s mission as broader than an “invitation to a commitment of faith in Jesus Christ and to entry through baptism into the community of believers”, the document unfortunately develops a vision “in which the core elements of proclaimation and invitation to life in Christ seem virtually to disappear.” An example is the emphasis on evangelization as “a mutually enriching sharing of gifts devoid of any intention whatsoever to invite the dialogue partner to baptism”. (#7)
4. In emphasizing religious freedom and freedom of conscience, and in asserting that the Church does not have a policy that “singles out the Jews as a people for conversion”, the document “fails to account for St. Paul’s complete teaching about the inclusion of the Jewish people as a whole in Christ’s salvation.” For example, St. Paul teaches that when “the full number of the Gentiles comes in…all Israel will be saved” (Rm 11:25-26). (#8)
5. Moreover, the document “renders even the possibility of individual conversion doubtful by a further statement that implies 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’.” (#9)

Twenty or thirty years ago such doctrinal clarifications would never have been made. Even seven years ago it was possible to issue the statement without the required doctrinal context. But not any more. If you’re looking for evidence that things are slowly getting better in the Church in America, this “Note” fills the bill. It even flies in the face of political correctness to do it.

*******************************************

The radical traditionalist response to
REFLECTIONS ON COVENANT AND MISSION
BY CHRISTOPHER BLOSSER
THE CARDINAL RATZINGER FAN CLUB

On August 12, 2002 the Bishops Committee for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs, USCCB and the National Council of Synagogues published a document, Reflections on Covenant and Mission, consisting of separate Roman Catholic and Jewish reflections on the the topic of the covenant and its missiological implications. The Roman Catholic participants generated a large and understandable amount of excitement and controversy by proposing that “campaigns that target Jews for conversion to Christianity are no longer theologically acceptable in the Catholic Church.”

The participants cited as basis for this proposition specific examples from Nostra Aetate and guidelines for the implementation thereof; Pope John Paul II’s recognition of “the permanence of the Jewish people’s covenant relationship with God” and the “continuous spiritual fecundity” of rabbinical Judaism from the Middle Ages to the present day; a paper by Prof. Tommaso Federici for the International Catholic-Jewish Liaison Committee in Venice, examining mission and witness of the Church in light of Nostra Aetate 1; and statements by Cardinal Walter Kasper, President of the Pontifical Commission for the Religious Relations with the Jews.

As might be expected, the document was imbued by the press with a greater degree of authority than it actually possessed by many in the press, construed and portrayed as a formal declaration of the Bishops of the USCCB. In the days and months Catholics witnessed a variety of responses and discussions — some more calm, sober and reflective than others. The National Catholic Register held a symposium on the question “Should Catholic Evangelization Target Jews?” (Oct. 6-12, 2002), with predominantly critical responses to the document. Cardinal Avery Dulles responded as well in the pages of America (Oct. 14, 2002).

So great were the critical responses and overall confusion generated by Covenant and Mission that Cardinal Keeler was moved to issue a hasty clarification to the press that RCM represented “the state of thought among the participants of a dialogue”, which was not to be taken as a formal statement by the USCCB or the Bishops’ Committee for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs (BCEIA), but whose intended purpose was to “encourage serious reflection on these matters by Jews and Catholics in the U.S.”

The radical traditionalist response to Reflections on Covenant & Mission

Radical Traditionalists also responded in a flurry of vehement and righteous protest against Reflections on Covenant and Mission, deeming it a convenient example of the post-conciliar Church’s slide into apostasy under John Paul II and Cardinal Ratzinger. In the words of Christopher Ferrara, Covenant & Mission can only be considered “a response to the Vatican’s green light on the repudiation of the Church’s mission to the Jews.” 2 Meanwhile, Robert Sungenis of Catholic Apologetics International alleged that the document was “one in a long line of Vatican attempts to advance the Zionist agenda and change Catholic teaching”, launching into a long tirade of Zionist conspiracy-theorizing that made use of anti-semetic material, slanders against the Talmud and references to Holocaust revisionists. 3

Radical Traditionalists like Christopher Ferrara, Robert Sungenis, and John Vennari all adhere to a hardline supercessionist perspective of Catholic-Jewish relations — which is to say, if they had their way, there wouldn’t be any, at least with contemporary Jews and rabbinical Judaism. While the Guidelines for the implementation of Nostra Aetate call for Catholics to “acquire a better knowledge of . . . the religious tradition of Judaism, [and] strive to learn by what essential traits the Jews define themselves in the light of their own religious experience”, these three authors have occupied themselves with hurling invectives against the Talmud 4 and perpetuating theories of a Zionist conspiracy that has subsumed the post-conciliar Church. And neither are they thrilled by Pope John Paul II’s efforts to reconcile Catholics with the Jewish people. As Ferrara put it in a recent article in The Remnant 5:

When Pope John Paul performed the March 12 act of apology for sins “against the people of Israel,” he prayed “God of our fathers, you chose Abraham and his descendants to bring your Name to the Nations: we are deeply saddened by the behavior of those who in the course of history have caused these children of yours to suffer, and asking your forgiveness we wish to commit ourselves to genuine brotherhood with the people of the Covenant. We ask this through Christ our Lord.”

Father Fahey’s writings, which are based on the consistent teachings of the Popes, reveal the gross deficiencies of this prayer, no matter how well-intentioned it may have been. In truth, only Roman Catholics can honestly be called “sons of Abraham,” since it is only the Catholic religion which is faithful to the Faith of Abraham regarding the coming of the Redeemer. Only Roman Catholics can truly be called the “People of the Covenant,” since Christ superseded the Old Covenant with His New Covenant by His Passion, Death, Resurrection, and the establishment of His one true ecclesia.28

Thus, the March 12 “prayer for forgiveness” was a bizarre inversion of what should have taken place. It is the Jewish Rabbis who should have been on their knees reciting this same prayer, asking Heaven’s forgiveness for causing God’s “children to suffer” by their de-Christianizing effect on the nations and for their opposition to Christ and His Kingship. It is the Jewish Rabbis who should have vowed to “commit ourselves to genuine brotherhood with the people of the Covenant,” in other words, to repudiate their blasphemous Talmudic errors and convert to the New Covenant of Jesus Christ, the Holy Roman Catholic Church.

The ‘Fr. Fahey’ Ferrara refers to is Fr. Denis Fahey, held in high regard by many radical traditionalists (including the Society of St. Pius X), and waged a personal campaign against against “Jewish naturalism”, or ” the naturalistic Messianic domination of [The Jewish] nation over all the others”. 6 It is interesting to note that Sungenis, Ferrara and Vennari, when speaking about the Jews, have all referred to Fr. Fahey’s peculiar definition of anti-semitism, which is what I would like to address next.

The radical traditionalist exploitation of Fr. Fahey’s definition of “anti-semitism”

Fr. Fahey adhered to a specific and personal definition of anti-semitism as that comes in quite handy for radical traditionalist critics to dismiss accusations that they personally dislike the Jews. As Vennari says in a recent article in Catholic Family News:

One of the finest writers who dealt with the subject of anti-Semitism was the eminent scholar, Father Denis Fahey. In his 1953 book The Kingship of Christ and the Conversion of the Jewish Nation, Father Fahey discussed the true nature of the word. He explains that “anti-Semitism” means hatred of Jews as a race and as such is sinful. “The Jews, however,” says Fahey “use the word to designate any form of opposition to themselves, and they strive persistently to associate irrationality and want of balance with the term. They evidently want the world to believe that anyone who opposes Jewish pretensions is more or less deranged.” 7

According to the Encyclopedia Brittanica, “anti-semitism” was coined in 1879 by Wilhelm Marr to designate anti-Jewish campaigns in central Europe at that time. Although it is a misnomer (implying discrimination against all semites), it is commonly understood to mean “hostility toward or discrimination against Jews as a religious, ethnic, or racial group” (Merriam-Webster).

Fr. Edward Flannery’s Anguish of the Jews, a classic study of anti-semitism

In 1964 Fr. Edward Flannery published The Anguish of the Jews: Twenty Three Centuries of Anti-Semitism, according to whom:

The distinguishing mark of anti-semitism is a hatred, contempt and stereotyping of the Jewish people as such. . . . it should be distinguished therefore from indiscriminate hostility to which all peoples and groups have been prey; from anti-Judaism, a theological construct, with which it has often been intermingled; and from anti-Jewish manifestations that may lead to — or in history have led to — but do not possess the attributes specified above. 8

Flannery’s book documents many kinds of anti-semitism, from the classical anti-semitism of Greeks & Romans (motivated by offense at the Jewish refusal to conform to the religious and social standards of Hellenistic culture) to the religious anti-semitism and anti-Judaism of the Christian Church (manifesting itself in persecution, pogroms, massacres, social degradations, and forced baptisms) to anti-semitism of modern times (motivated by economic resentment and racial hatred, and culminating in the Holocaust).

The Anguish of the Jews, revised and updated in 1984, is considered to be a classic history of the subject. Upon reading Flannery’s history one can only conclude that Fahey’s equasion of anti-semitism with racial hatred, while etymologically correct, is gravely insufficient.

Furthermore, Ferrara, Sungenis and Vennari’s deferral to Fahey’s definition of anti-semitism as exclusively racial hatred, conveniently enables them to dismiss other forms of anti-semitism and/or anti-Judaism, especially and including the “teaching of contempt” — the tradition of theological interpretation which provided a religious basis for Christian persecution of the Jews over the course of history, and formally repudiated by the Church in Nostra Aetate.

Just what radical traditionalists think of “teaching of contempt” is illustrated in John Vennari’s response to Rabbi Klenicki, whom he encountered while attending a Jewish-Christian dialogue meeting:

[Rabbi Klenicki] told us that Catholic theology had been poisoned by “triumphalism” and by what he called “anti-Judaism”. He referred to the Catholic teaching of the Middle Ages as the “teaching of contempt”. This so-called “teaching of contempt” is nothing more than the traditional Catholic doctrine that Christ put an end to the religion of the Old Covenant by fulfilling it, and superseding it with the New Covenant through the establishment of His one true Church. . . . Rabbi Klenicki, however, complained that the traditional Catholic teaching led to the belief that Jews were not saved, which led to the belief that Jews were inferior, which led to the belief that Jews were contemptible, “which led” he said “to Auschwitz”.

Thus, the Rabbi advanced the false claim that it was the teaching of the Catholic Church that was ultimately responsible for the extermination of Jews in Nazi concentration camps under Hitler. 9

This relation of the “teaching of contempt” to the Holocaust was examined by the Vatican in the document We Remember: A Reflection on the Shoah. Although the Church asserted that “The Shoah was the work of a thoroughly modern neo-pagan regime. Its anti-Semitism had its roots outside of Christianity”, it did consider the question “whether the Nazi persecution of the Jews was not made easier by the anti-Jewish prejudices imbedded in some Christian minds and hearts”, and recognized that “the spiritual resistance and concrete action of other Christians was not that which might have been expected from Christ’s followers.”

For Vennari, however, the notion that certain teachings within Christianity fostered contempt for the Jews and led to the lack of Christian resistance to (and in some cases complicity with) persecution of the Jewish people under the Nazis, is simply preposterous.

A brief explication of “the teaching of contempt”

The ‘teaching of contempt’ was popularized by the French-Jewish history professor Jules Isaac, who with the advent of the Nazi invasion of France began to research the subject of the inexplicable silence and apathy of Christians toward Nazi persecution of European Jews, spurred by the loss of his wife and most of his family in 1943 in the Nazi death camps.

In 1947 Prof. Isaac published Jesus and Israel, a 600 page analysis of anti-semitism and Christianity which compared the texts of the Gospels with Catholic and Protestant scriptural commentaries conveying a distorted picture of Jesus’ attitude toward Israel and Israel’s attitude toward Jesus, and which he believed were largely responsible for the anti-semitic conditioning of European Christians. That same year, he met with Jewish and Catholic intellectuals to submit his Eighteen Points: specific recommendations for the purification of Christian teaching regarding the Jews.

In 1949, following the papal authorization to substitute the term “perfidis judaeis” with the milder “unfaithful” or “unbelieving” in the Good Friday prayer for the Jews, Isaac had an audience with Pope Pius XII to present his Eighteen Points and petition for further changes. In the years that followed Jules Isaac published several more works, including one on the fundamental differences between pagan and Christian anti-semitism, which argued that the latter, because it was theological, was more pernicious and persistent.

Prof. Isaac went on to meet Pope John XXIII in a private audience and petition for the formal removal of the “teaching of contempt” from Christian tradition — a hope which was to be realized in Vatican II’s Nostra Aetate, which not only issued a formal condemnation of the charge of deicide but conveyed a positive vision of the relationship between the Church and the Jewish people.

The first book by Isaac to be published in English is simply titled The Teaching of Contempt: Christian roots of Anti-Semitism, a basic presentation of his study of the subject. According to Isaac contempt for the Jews manifests itself in three main themes in Christian tradition:

* The first theme is the “dispersion of Israel as a sign of providential punishment,” beginning with the capture of Jerusalem and destruction of the Temple in 70 A.D, which Christians understood as God’s retribution for the crucifixion of Christ.
* The second theme is the “degenarate state of Judaism at the time of Jesus”, in which Christianity portrayed the Jewish religion in Jesus’ time as “desiccated, ossified, reduced to mere formalism and ritual . . . legalism without a soul, without ferver, without true aspiration towards God.”
* The third theme was the “crime of deicide”, and the application of collective guilt upon the Jewish people as a whole. Christianity came to depict the Jews “as Cain, as Judas, as a murderous people, a ‘deicide’ people . . . an abomination to the Christian world.” Thus the role of Pontius Pilate and the Roman soldiers would be increasingly subordinated to that of the Jews in the preaching and teaching of the Church fathers.

In this small book Jules Isaac would present each of these themes in the historical writings of the Church, from the time of the fathers through the twentieth century — and he would counter each of them in turn with historical evidence to the contrary, as well as appealing to the scriptures themselves and the spirit of Christ:

Christ is said to have pronounced a sentence of alienation and condemnation upon the Jewish people. But why, in contradiction of his own gospel of love and forgiveness, should he had condemned his own people, the only people to whom he chose to speak — his own people, among whom he found not only bitter enemies, but fervent disciples and adoring followers? We have every reason to believe that the real object of his condemnation was a certain pharisaism to be found in al times and in all peoples, in every religion and in every church. 10

Resisting radical traditionalists’ vilification of the Jews

Recognizing the contribution of certain interpretations in Christian tradition to fostering a contempt of the Jews, Vatican II responded to the Shoah by calling for a re-evaluation of the historical Judaism of the Old Testament, a condemnation of the charge of deicide, and an appreciation for the positive aspects of contemporary rabbinic Judaism and the witness of the Jewish people in our day and age.

The supercessionist theological conception of the relationship between the Old and New Covenant perpetuated by traditional Catholics like Ferrara and Sungenis, depicting the Jewish people as being utterly abandoned by God and the Jewish Covenant as revoked, must be firmly countered by the recognition of Israel’s continuing covenant relationship with God, as expressed by the Church in light of St. Paul’s reflections on the enduring mercy of a God who is faithful to his promises:

For Paul, Jesus’ establishment of “the new covenant in [his] blood” (1 Co 11:25), does not imply any rupture of God’s covenant with his people, but constitutes its fulfilment. He includes “the covenants” among the privileges enjoyed by Israel, even if they do not believe in Christ (Rm 9:4). Israel continues to be in a covenant relationship and remains the people to whom the fulfilment of the covenant was promised, because their lack of faith cannot annul God’s fidelity (Rm 11:29). Even if some Israelites have observed the Law as a means of establishing their own justice, the covenant-promise of God, who is rich in mercy (Rm 11:26-27), cannot be abrogated. Continuity is underlined by affirming that Christ is the end and the fulfilment to which the Law was leading the people of God (Ga 3:24). For many Jews, the veil with which Moses covered his face remains over the Old Testament (2 Co 3:13,15), thus preventing them from recognising Christ’s revelation there. This becomes part of the mysterious plan of God’s salvation, the final outcome of which is the salvation of “all Israel” (Rm 11:26). 11

One of the best summaries of this new vision of the Jewish-Christian relationship is found in the reflections of Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger:

Certainly, from the very beginning, relations between the infant Church and Israel were often marked by conflict. The Church was considered by her own mother to be a degenerate daughter, while Christians considered their mother to be blind and obstinate. Down through the history of Christianity, already-strained relations deteriorated further, even giving birth in many cases to anti-Jewish attitudes, which throughout history have led to deplorable acts of violence. Even if the most recent, loathsome experience of the Shoah was perpetrated in the name of an anti-Christian ideology, which tried to strike the Christian faith at its Abrahamic roots in the people of Israel, it cannot be denied that a certain insufficient resistance to this atrocity on the part of Christians can be explained by an inherited anti-Judaism present in the hearts of not a few Christians.

Perhaps it is precisely because of this latest tragedy that a new vision of the relationship between the Church and Israel has been born: a sincere willingness to overcome every kind of anti-Judaism, and to initiate a constructive dialogue based on knowledge of each other, and on reconciliation. If such a dialogue is to be fruitful, it must begin with a prayer to our God, first of all that he might grant to us Christians a greater esteem and love for that people, the people of Israel, to whom belong “the adoption as sons, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises; theirs are the patriarchs, and from them comes Christ according to the flesh, he who is over all, God, blessed forever. Amen” (Romans 9:4-5), and this not only in the past, but still today, “for the gifts and the call of God are irrevocable” (Romans 11:29). In the same way, let us pray that he may grant also to the children of Israel a deeper knowledge of Jesus of Nazareth, who is their son, and the gift they have made to us. Since we are both awaiting the final redemption, let us pray that the paths we follow may converge. 12

Conflicting Messages from the USCCB and the Vatican

It is one thing to contend on the basis of this new appreciation for Jews and Judaism as expressed in Nostrae Aetate to call for the cessation of proselytism and missionary tactics which infringed upon human dignity and religious freedom. It is quite another to argue, as do the authors of Reflections on Covenant and Mission, that the Jewish people are exempt from the Church’s missionary mandate to spread the gospel to the nations.

In spite of the objectionable content found in radical traditionalist portrayal of the Jews, I believe they are correct about this: it must be admitted that with respect to the question of whether a mission — understood as catechesis and the invitation to baptism — to the Jews was acceptable in the Catholic Church today, we are receiving conflicting messages by prominent members of the clergy, not only those of the USCCB but within the Vatican itself. For even though Cardinal Keeler has rejected the popular misconception that Covenant and Mission represented a formal teaching of the Catholic Church, prominent members of the dialogue are contributing to that very impression by publicly agreeing with and promoting the conclusions of the authors.

As Associate Director of the Secretariat for Ecumenical and Interreligious Relations, Eugene Fisher is has often had to publicly address the issue of converting Jews to Christianity. In addition to referring to the paper by Tommaco Federici on the subject mentioned earlier, Fisher has on numerous occasions advanced the argument that the revisions to the Good Friday prayer for the Jews provide a theological basis for the relenquishment of a specific mission.

Beginning with Pope Pius XII’s mandate in 1950 that the term perfideles be translated in liturgical books as “unbelieving” or “unfaithful” rather than “perfidious”; Pope John XIII’s subsequent abolishment of the term altogether, and the extensive revisions of the prayer by the Second Vatican Council, Fisher concludes:

The reform of the Liturgy mandated by the Second Vatican Council, however, re-conceptualized and rewrote the prayer entirely. It now reads:

Let us pray for the Jewish people,
the first to hear the word of God
that they may continue to grow in the love of his Name
and in faithfulness to his covenant.
Almighty and eternal God, long ago you gave your promise to Abraham and his posterity.
Listen to your Church as we pray that the people you first made your own
may arrive at the fullness of redemption.

The phrase, “fullness of redemption,” here, is not historical but eschatological. Like St. Paul in Romans 11 it remands the issue to God’s mercy, to be revealed at the end of time. I believe this was intentional as a way of resolving the question in the present dispensation. So, no, the Church does not wish the conversion of the Jews as a people to Christianity. Otherwise she would at least pray for it. This does not, of course, preclude the acceptance into the Church of individual Jews whose own, personal spiritual lives have lead them to our faith. Such a policy of exclusion would in my opinion be itself a travesty of the principles of religious freedom. 13

Cardinal Kasper’s misrepresentation of Dominus Iesus

Like the Catholic participants of Covenant and Mission, Eugene Fisher also refers to the words of Cardinal Kasper, President of the Pontifical Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews, in May 2001, responding to Jewish concerns over the missiological implications of Dominus Iesus for the Jewish people. Statements which, because of the nature of his office, carry far more weight than those of Covenant and Mission [emphasis mine]:

Kasper’s declaration, while not quite on the order of the statement of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith which it interprets, is nonetheless not simply another “opinion.” It was issued on a formal occasion when the Cardinal was speaking for the Catholic Church to the Jewish People. So it represents the definitive statement by the Holy See itself of the meaning of DI for Catholic-Jewish relations. 14

Kasper notes the postive appreciation of Judaism by Nostra Aetate, and by Pope John Paul II. He correctly notes the unique character of the Church’s evaluation of Judaism among the rest of the world’s religions:

As Pope John Paul II has put it on more than one occasion, “our two religious communities are connected and closely related at the very level of their religious identities” (his addresses of 12 March, 1973, and 6 March, 1982); and during his historic visit to the Synagogue of Rome on 13 April, 1986: “The Jewish religion is not ‘extrinsic’to us, but in a certain way is ‘intrinsic’to our own religion. With Judaism, therefore, we have a relationship which we do not have with any other religion. You are our dearly beloved brothers and, in a certain way, it could be said that you are our elder brothers”. 15

On the question of the status of the Jewish covenant, Kasper assures them that “the old theory of substitution is gone since II Vatican Council. For us Christians today the covenant with the Jewish people is a living heritage, a living reality.” And since Dominis Iesus was specifically concerned with correcting certain attempts by theologians engaged in dialogue to arrive at a “universal theology” of interreligious relations leading in some cases to indifferentism, relativism and syncretism, the Jewish people have no basis for concern, because Dominis Iesus has no bearing upon the theology of Catholic-Jewish relations.

And yet, contrary to his initial assertion that Dominus Iesus is not directly concerned with Jewish-Christian relations, Cardinal Kasper proceeds to state — on the basis of Dominus Iesus — that the salvific universality of Jesus Christ specifically absolves the Jews of any need to convert:

The only thing I wish to say is that the Document Dominus Iesus does not state that everybody needs to become a Catholic in order to be saved by God. On the contrary, it declares that God’s grace, which is the grace of Jesus Christ according to our faith, is available to all. Therefore, the Church believes that Judaism, i.e. the faithful response of the Jewish people to God’s irrevocable covenant, is salvific for them, because God is faithful to his promises.

This touches the problem of mission towards Jews, a painful question with regard to forced conversion in the past. Dominus Iesus, as other official documents, raised this question again saying that dialogue is a part of evangelisation. This stirred Jewish suspicion. But this is a language problem, since the term evangelisation, in official Church documents, cannot be understood in the same way it is commonly interpreted in everyday’s speech. In strict theological language, evangelisation is a very complex and overall term, and reality. It implies presence and witness, prayer and liturgy, proclamation and catechesis, dialogue and social work . . . which do not have the goal of increasing the number of Catholics. Thus evangelisation, if understood in its proper and theological meaning, does not imply any attempt of proselytism whatsoever. 16

Note Cardinal Kasper’s line of reasoning: Dominus Iesus emphasizes the necessity of evangelization. But evangelization is a highly complex term, and doesn’t necessarily mean “increasing the number of Catholics” (presumably through conversion). Consequently, Jews need not be concerned because DI does not imply any attempt of proselytism whatsoever.

But what does “proselytism” really mean? And is Cardinal Kasper’s understanding of the term correct? — According to Cardinal Francis Arinze, former head of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious dialogue and one quite familiar with the term, proselytism is generally understood to mean the effort to spread one’s religion by methods that are regarded as unnacceptable. Examples of proselytism include coercion by physical (through harrassment and threat of violence), economic (through the promise of material gifts), and psychological (taking advantage of one’s ignorance) means, all of which deserve condemnation since they insult the human dignity of the recipient, infringes upon one’s religious freedom, and does no honor to God.

But, Cardinal Arinze adds,

There is, however, a use of the word proselytism that is unacceptable. Some people use the word to refer to every effort to propose one’s religion to others, even when the methods used are noble, honest and respectful. It is worng and confusing to use the term in this sense. It is like giving a dog a bad name in order to hang it. It is like wanting to deny and to condemn the right of a person to share one’s religion. This fundamental human right should never be denied to anyone. 17

In light of Arinze’s clarification of the term, Cardinal Kasper’s statement that Dominus Iesus’s promotion of evangelization excludes any attempt at proselytization is faulty — since it equates proselytization with a sharing of the gospel with others and gives the impression to his audience that such is prohibited in Jewish-Christian relations.

Dominus Iesus – mission to all without exception

Does Dominus Iesus’s insistence on the universal salvicity of Jesus Christ imply that Jews are exempt from the Church’s missionary mandate? — Cardinal Kasper answers in the affirmative. A closer examination of the text of the document, and Cardinal Ratzinger’s defense of that document, argue to the contrary.

Cardinal Kasper and Dr. Fisher are certainly correct in noting that the Church teaches that those outside the visible boundaries of the Church can attain salvation through the grace of Jesus Christ. As Pope John Paul II states in the encyclical Redemptoris Missio

The universality of salvation means that it is granted not only to those who explicitly believe in Christ and have entered the Church. Since salvation is offered to all, it must be made concretely available to all. But it is clear that today, as in the past, many people do not have an opportunity to come to know or accept the gospel revelation or to enter the Church. The social and cultural conditions in which they live do not permit this, and frequently they have been brought up in other religious traditions. For such people salvation in Christ is accessible by virtue of a grace which, while having a mysterious relationship to the Church, does not make them formally part of the Church but enlightens them in a way which is accommodated to their spiritual and material situation. This grace comes from Christ; it is the result of his Sacrifice and is communicated by the Holy Spirit. It enables each person to attain salvation through his or her free cooperation.

For this reason the Council, after affirming the centrality of the Paschal Mystery, went on to declare that “this applies not only to Christians but to all people of good will in whose hearts grace is secretly at work. Since Christ died for everyone, and since the ultimate calling of each of us comes from God and is therefore a universal one, we are obliged to hold that the Holy Spirit offers everyone the possibility of sharing in this Paschal Mystery in a manner known to God.” 18

Consequently the unique mediation and universal salvicity of Jesus Christ is extended to all humanity beyond the visible boundaries of the Church, and allows the possibility for non-Christians (including the Jews) to respond to that grace by following what light of truth is available to them.

But this is not simply all there is to it: Dominis Iesus, while reiterating the Church’s teaching, follows its assertion of the universal salvicity of Jesus Christ with an equally emphatic assertion that individual salvation through Christ cannot be understood as an isolated process, separate and against the Church:

[20.] Above all else, it must be firmly believed that “the Church, a pilgrim now on earth, is necessary for salvation: the one Christ is the mediator and the way of salvation; he is present to us in his body which is the Church. He himself explicitly asserted the necessity of faith and baptism (cf. Mk 16:16; Jn 3:5), and thereby affirmed at the same time the necessity of the Church which men enter through baptism as through a door”. This doctrine must not be set against the universal salvific will of God (cf. 1 Tim 2:4); “it is necessary to keep these two truths together, namely, the real possibility of salvation in Christ for all mankind and the necessity of the Church for this salvation”.

The Church is the “universal sacrament of salvation”, since, united always in a mysterious way to the Saviour Jesus Christ, her Head, and subordinated to him, she has, in God’s plan, an indispensable relationship with the salvation of every human being.Ã For those who are not formally and visibly members of the Church, “salvation in Christ is accessible by virtue of a grace which, while having a mysterious relationship to the Church, does not make them formally part of the Church, but enlightens them in a way which is accommodated to their spiritual and material situation. This grace comes from Christ; it is the result of his sacrifice and is communicated by the Holy Spirit”;81 it has a relationship with the Church, which “according to the plan of the Father, has her origin in the mission of the Son and the Holy Spirit”.

21. With respect to the way in which the salvific grace of God — which is always given by means of Christ in the Spirit and has a mysterious relationship to the Church — comes to individual non-Christians, the Second Vatican Council limited itself to the statement that God bestows it “in ways known to himself”. Theologians are seeking to understand this question more fully. Their work is to be encouraged, since it is certainly useful for understanding better God’s salvific plan and the ways in which it is accomplished. However, from what has been stated above about the mediation of Jesus Christ and the “unique and special relationship” which the Church has with the kingdom of God among men — which in substance is the universal kingdom of Christ the Saviour — it is clear that it would be contrary to the faith to consider the Church as one way of salvation alongside those constituted by the other religions, seen as complementary to the Church or substantially equivalent to her, even if these are said to be converging with the Church toward the eschatological kingdom of God. 19

I believe that Cardinal Kasper certainly comprehends the entire meaning of Dominus Iesus. However, when he informs a predominantly Jewish audience that Dominus Iesus means “it is not necessary to become a Catholic in order to be saved by God”, and assures them that “Judaism, i.e. the faithful response of the Jewish people to God’s irrevocable covenant, is salvific for them, because God is faithful to his promises” — without providing any degree of theological clarification of these points, he assists in fostering an attitude of ambivalence towards the necessity of Jesus Christ and his Church for salvation.

Dominus Iesus’ caution to theologian that “it would be contrary to the faith to consider the Church as one way of salvation alongside those constituted by the other religions” could certainly be seen as applicable to Cardinal Kasper’s presentation of the Jewish Covenant — especially when this caution is also stated by the Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews:

“In virtue of her divine mission, the Church” which is to be “the all-embracing means of salvation” in which alone “the fulness of the means of salvation can be obtained” (Unit. Red. 3); “must of her nature proclaim Jesus Christ to the world” (cf. Guidelines and Suggestions, I). Indeed we believe that is is through him that we go to the Father (cf. Jn. 14:6) “and this is eternal life, that they know thee the only true God and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent” (Jn 17:33).

Jesus affirms (ibid. 10:16) that “there shall be one flock and one shepherd”. Church and Judaism cannot then be seen as two parallel ways of salvation and the Church must witness to Christ as the Redeemer for all, “while maintaining the strictest respect for religious liberty in line with the teaching of the Second Vatican Council (Declaration Dignitatis Humanae)” (Guidelines and Suggestions, I). 20

Dominus Iesus, furthermore, is insists the missionary mandate of the Church, which is obligated to proclaim the truth of salvation to all without exception [emphasis mine]:

In inter-religious dialogue as well, the mission ad gentes “today as always retains its full force and necessity”. “Indeed, God ‘desires all men to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth’ (1 Tim 2:4); that is, God wills the salvation of everyone through the knowledge of the truth. Salvation is found in the truth. Those who obey the promptings of the Spirit of truth are already on the way of salvation. But the Church, to whom this truth has been entrusted, must go out to meet their desire, so as to bring them the truth. Because she believes in God’s universal plan of salvation, the Church must be missionary”. . . . Indeed, the Church, guided by charity and respect for freedom, must be primarily committed to proclaiming to all people the truth definitively revealed by the Lord, and to announcing the necessity of conversion to Jesus Christ and of adherence to the Church through Baptism and the other sacraments, in order to participate fully in communion with God, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Thus, the certainty of the universal salvific will of God does not diminish, but rather increases the duty and urgency of the proclamation of salvation and of conversion to the Lord Jesus Christ. 21

Defending Dominus Iesus in an interview with Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Cardinal Ratzinger was pressed with the question of the necessity of the Church’s mission, “if, in the end, man can reach God by all paths” — or, in the words of Cardinal Kasper, “one does not have to become Catholic to be saved”). The Cardinal responded:

“Those who seek the truth find themselves objectively on the path that leads to Christ, and thus also on the path to the community in which he remains present in history, that is, to the Church. To seek the truth, to listen to one’s conscience, to purify one’s interior hearing, these are the conditions of salvation for all. They have a profound, objective connection with Christ and the Church. In this sense we say that other religions have rites and prayers which can play a role of preparing for the Gospel, of occasions or pedagogical helps in which the human heart is prompted to open itself to God’s action.

The way of conscience, the keeping of one’s gaze focused on truth and the objective good, is one single way, although it can take many forms because of the great number of individuals and situations. The good is one, however, and truth does not contradict itself. The fact that man does not attain one or the other does not relativize the requirement of truth and goodness. For this reason it is not enough to continue in the religion one has inherited, but one must remain attentive to the true good and thus be able to transcend the limits of one’s own religion. This has meaning only if truth and goodness really exist. It would be impossible to walk the way of Christ if he did not exist. Living with the eyes of the heart open, purifying oneself inwardly and seeking the light are indispensable conditions of human salvation. Proclaiming the truth, that is, making the light shine (not putting it ‘under a bushel, but on a stand’), is absolutely necessary.” 22

John Paul II: no warrant for exclusion

What does John Paul II say regarding a mission to the Jews? The authors of Covenant and Mission and Cardinal Kasper defend their conclusion with an appeal the Pope’s appreciation of Judaism and his (often-quoted) insistence, following St. Paul, that “the covenant has not been revoked.” But as Cardinal Avery Dulles notes in his response to Covenant and Mission:

[Pope John Paul II] declares that “missionary evangelization is the primary service that the Church can render to every individual and all humanity in the modern world” (R.M., No. 2). The call to conversion, says the pope, must not be dismissed as “proselytization” in the pejorative sense of that word, since it corresponds to the right of every person to hear the good news of the God who gives himself in Christ. Conversion to Christ, he notes, is intrinsically joined to baptism as the sacrament of regeneration (No. 47). While he does not “target” Jews in any special way for conversion, he makes no exception for them. He simply assumes, as all Christians must, that if Christ is the redeemer of the world, every tongue should confess him. If Jesus offers a share in his divine life through the sacraments, all men and women, not excluding Jews, should be invited to the banquet. 23

And as Rev. Michael McGarry, C.S.P. observes in his analysis of Redemptoris Missio in relation to the question “Can Catholics make an exception?”:

[Like Pope Paul IV in Evangelii Nuntiandi], Pope John Paul II says nothing about the Jewish people in Redemptoris Missio. Rather the beneficiaries of the Church’s missionary task ad extra are all peoples without exception. (“The universality of salvation means that it is granted not only to those who explicitly believe in Christ and have entered the church…it must be made concretely available to all”). . . . The Pope’s view of the Jewish role in salvation, at least in this document, is decidedly prefatory; Jewish life and religion after the time of Jesus and their continued witness to the world of God’s faithfulness are neither mentioned nor alluded to. However, what is interesting in the Pope’s description of the mission from our focused concern is precisely its emphasis, if not sole direction, towards the Gentiles and not towards Israel.

What are we to conclude, therefore, about what Pope John Paul has said about the Jews in RM?

* Like his predecessor, Pope John Paul II does not call for an explicit mission to the Jews (nor does he exclude the Jews from the Church’s mission);
* The meaning of the Jewish people to and in the world after the time of Jesus is left unmentioned.

The need for further clarification

In spite of the criticisms of Cardinal Avery Dulles and Cardinal Ratzinger, it certainly appears that the exemption of the Jews to the Church’s call for conversion, together with a conception of the Jewish covenant that possesses a salvific status of its own, seemingly apart from the work of Christ or any relationship (however mysterious) with the Church, are representative of the state of mind of Catholic participants engaging in dialogue with Jews today.

So long as prominent members of the Church like Eugene Fisher (associate director of the Secretariat for Ecumenical and Interreligious Relations) and Cardinal Kasper (President of the Pontifical Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews) express their agreement with the conclusions of Reflections of Covenant and Mission over and against other prominent members of the clergy (Cardinal Dulles and Cardinal Ratzinger, among others), there will continue to be a great deal of confusion in the minds of many laymen — not to mention those outside the Church — on this very question.

The need for further clarification from the Vatican — perhaps by way of a formal doctrinal note from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith — on this matter is made all the more imperative, given the manner in which radical traditionalists and others on the Catholic fringe have used the conclusions of Covenant & Mission and Cardinal Kasper in their vehement assault upon the integrity of Pope John Paul II and the Catholic Church.

I firmly believe that Nostra Aetate’s repudiation of the teaching of contempt and the development of a positive appreciation of Jews and contemporary Judaism is one of the greatest achievements of the Second Vatican Council, and that members of those commissions engaging in interreligious dialogue with the Jews have done a remarkable job of bringing about the Church’s reconciliation with our “elder sisters and brothers in the faith.” But such a reconciliation cannot be attained at the cost of reneging on the Church’s obligation to bring the gospel of Christ to all people.

Let us hope and pray that the Vatican will see fit in the future to present a unified response to Reflections on Covenant and Mission, and assist in putting an end to the conflicting messages we are currently receiving.

Comments are closed.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 167 other followers

%d bloggers like this: