Settimo Cielodi Sandro Magister
24 apr 19
The Two Paschas of Jews and Christians. A Previously Unpublished Letter By the Pope Emeritus
92 years after his birth and 6 after his resignation from the papacy, Joseph Ratzinger is still highly active. A few days after the sensational publication of his “notes” on the scandal of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church, another never-before-published text of his is seeing the light, which was known to exist but can be read in its entirety only now, in this freshly published book edited by Elio Guerriero:
The text now made public is the letter that the pope emeritus wrote to the chief rabbi of Vienna, Arie Folger, in August of 2018.
Rabbi Folger replied to this letter on September 4, with a letter of his own that is also published in the book.
And this epistolary exchange was followed was followed on January 16 of this year by a visit to Ratzinger, at his Vatican hermitage, by Rabbi Folger, Darmstadt rabbi Josh Ahrens, and Saxony rabbi Zsolt Balla, member of the board of trustees of the conference of Orthodox rabbis of Germany.
“It was an intense conversation that lasted an hour,” Folger comments in the preface to the book. “In him I found a very genial and profound thinker who is repulsed by anti-Semitism and anti-Judaism in all its forms.”
And yet the questions discussed by the pope emeritus and the rabbis were not of little account. They have always been among the most controversial in the relationship between Judaism and Christianity: the messiah, the promised land, the covenant, worship, the commandments.
Ratzinger had discussed these in depth in a previous text of his, sent in 2017 to Swiss cardinal Kurt Koch, president of the Vatican commission for dialogue with Judaism, and published the following year in the international theological magazine “Communio” in its editions in German, French, and English (this last with the entire text downloadable) and finally, in Italian, at the beginning of 2019, in the “Rivista di Vita Spirituale.”
And in its turn this text by Ratzinger – entitled “Grace and call without misgiving. Observations on the treatise ‘De Iudaeis’” – followed a document published in December of 2015 by the Vatican commission headed by Cardinal Koch, at the 50th anniversary of the declaration “Nostra Aetate” of Vatican Council II.
This document, entitled “The gifts and call of God are irrevocable,” rejected first of all, on the Catholic side, the so-called “theory of replacement,” according to which Israel, for having refused to recognize Jesus Christ as messiah, ceased to be the bearer of the promises of God, in this “replacement” by the Church.
Moreover, it decisively maintained that between God and the people of Israel there endures a “covenant never revoked.”
So then, in Ratzinger’s judgment “both of these statements are fundamentally correct, in many aspects, but they are imprecise and must be critically, further developed.”
And it is to precisely this development that his entire text of 2017 is dedicated.
Which immediately received, after its publication in the summer of 2018, a storm of criticism on the Catholic side, especially from German-speaking theologians who saw in it “a danger for Catholic-Jewish dialogue” and even “the foundation for a new anti-Semitism.”
At the same time, however, on account of that same text of his Ratzinger elicited interest and appreciation in the Jewish camp, which was expressed by, among others, Rabbi Folger in a commentary published in “Jüdische Allgemeine” on July 16 2018, with the interrogative title “Danger for dialogue?”
It is precisely in response to this commentary that Ratzinger wrote to Rabbi Folger the letter that has now been made public.
The book edited by Elio Guerriero – for twenty years the director of the Italian edition of “Communio” and author of an acclaimed biography of Benedict XVI that has been translated into many languages – collects this sequence of letters and documents, among which there is also a place of great prominence, on the Jewish side, for the 2016 declaration entitled “Between Jerusalem and Rome,” undersigned by three of the most important religious Jewish organizations: the conference of European rabbis, the rabbinical council of America, and the chief rabbinate of the state of Israel.
But it should suffice here to cite the most evocative passages of Ratzinger’s letter of August 2018. Starting with that phrase which was greeted by Folger and both other rabbis with warm approval and has been printed with great emphasis on the back cover of the book:
“By human reckoning this dialogue will never lead to the unity of the two interpretations within the current history. This unity is reserved to God at the end of time.”
Regarding the messianic hope of Israel, Ratzinger writes:
“I have sought to grasp ‘ex novo’ the entirety of the messianic promises in their multiformity and thus to understand the ‘already’ and the ‘not yet’ of the hope in their intimate interpenetration. The form of messianic expectation that is based on the figure of David remains valid, but is limited in its meaning. The decisive form of hope for me is Moses, of whom Scripture says that he spoke face to face with the Lord, like a friend. Jesus of Nazareth appears to us Christians as the central figure of hope, because he stands on a first-name basis with God. From this new vision the time of the Church no longer appears as the time of a world definitively redeemed, but rather the time of the Church is for us Christians that which for Israel the forty years in the desert were.”
As for the promised land, Ratzinger writes that “the State of Israel as such cannot be considered theologically as the fulfillment of the promise of territory. In itself it is a secular state,” which however “has entirely legitimately religious foundations.” Therefore “I maintain that in the formation of the State of Israel one can recognize in a mysterious way the fidelity of God to Israel.”
Finally, as for the commandments and worship, Ratzinger writes that “over the entire theme from the beginning of the modern era there extends the shadow of the anti-Jewish thought of Luther… which has generated a pseudo-religious ‘Marcionism’ that has not yet been brought truly into discussion. I maintain that precisely on this point there are present important possibilities for a renewed dialogue with Judaism.”
In the letter to Rabbi Folger, Ratzinger does not return to the question of the salvation of the Jews in God’s plan. But he did so in his text of 2017, particularly in this passage:
“Not only does Saint Paul write that ‘all Israel must be saved,’ but the Revelation of Saint John also sees two groups of the saved: the 144 thousand of the 12 tribes of Israel, and beside these ‘an immense multitude that no one could count,’ as a representation of those saved among the pagans. From the point of view of the New Testament tradition, this perspective is not a reality that will simply take place at the end, after many millennia. It is instead something that in some way is always present.”
Present like the two Paschas celebrated this year during the same days and with the respective “interpretations” both by the “12 tribes of Israel” and by the “multitude” of believers in Jesus of Nazareth. In the hope of that unity “reserved to God at the end of time.”Condividi:
- 24 aprile 2019