Should Catholic … In the Wake of ‘Reflections on Covenant and Mission’

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In the Wake of “Reflections on Covenant and Mission”
David Moss

Ed. This article appeared in The Hebrew Catholic, #78, Winter-Spring 2003. All Rights Reserved.

The last issue of The Hebrew Catholic was sent to every bishop in the United States and to others in the hierarchy throughout the world. We were gratified to receive responses from several bishops and from Cardinal Kasper. We also received a response from Fr. Arthur Kennedy, the new Executive Director of the Bishops’ Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs Committee, who invited me and three other Hebrew Catholics to a meeting in Washington, D.C. (see President’s Memo).

There were also some significant responses in the media. The National Catholic Register Symposium was included in our last issue. Let us look at some others.

Scholars Response • Peter Herbeck • Fr. Peter Hocken • Roy Schoeman

Response by Cardinal Avery Dulles

There was a response from Cardinal Avery Dulles, entitled Covenant and Mission, in the October 14, 2002 issue of America. The full response may be read here.

For our purposes here, I will only relate some of the Cardinal’s points about Reflections.

“The statement is ambiguous, if not erroneous, in its treatment of topics such as evangelization, mission, covenant and dialogue.”

Cardinal Dulles explores Reflections’ treatment of evangelization and concludes that:

“[The Holy Father] writes: ‘The vital core of the new evangelization must be a clear and unequivocal proclamation of the person of Jesus Christ’ (No. 66). Covenant and Mission presents a concept of evangelization in which this vital core is dispensable.”

The Cardinal continues to examine Reflections’ treatment of mission and quotes the Holy Father:

“…‘missionary evangelization is the primary service that the Church can render to every individual and all humanity in the modern world’ (Redemptoris Missio, 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.”

Cardinal Dulles then examines Reflections’ treatment of covenant and, looking at Hebrews, notes:

“The most formal statement on the status of the Sinai covenant under Christianity appears in the Letter to the Hebrews, which points out that in view of the new covenant promised by God through the prophet Jeremiah, the first covenant is ‘obsolete’ and ‘ready to vanish away’ (Heb. 8:13). The priesthood and the law have changed (Heb. 7:12). Christ, we are told, ‘abolishes the first [covenant] in order to establish the second’ (Heb. 10:9).”

Cardinal Dulles also recognizes that:

“the promises of God to Israel remain valid. The Hebrew Scriptures, containing God’s promises, have enduring value, but are to be interpreted in the light of Christ to whom they point forward.”

and

“Paul in fact looks forward to a day when all Israel will recognize Christ and be saved (11:26). He does not mean that Israel is already saved by adherence to the Sinai covenant. In view of his promises to them, God has a special providence over Israel. The Jews have a status distinct from the Gentiles.”

Finally, Cardinal Dulles reviews Reflections’ discussion of dialogue, and finding it wanting, concludes that:

“The document Covenant and Mission does not forthrightly present what I take to be the Christian position on the meaning of Christ for Judaism.”

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The Scholars Respond to Cardinal Dulles

In the October 21, 2002 issue of America, Mary C. Boys, Philip A. Cunningham, and John T. Pawlikowski, members of the Christian Scholars Group on Christian Jewish Relations, responded to Cardinal Dulles’ critique.

The full text of their response is available as a pdf here.

The scholars remind us, as did Reflections, that Jews have at various times over the last two millennia been treated very poorly by Catholics. But instead of providing guidelines for sensitive, prudent, and respectful ways of witnessing to the Jewish people about their own Messiah, these scholars defend Reflections and critique Cardinal Dulles.

To illustrate their thinking, let me quote the first sentence in a few successive paragraphs of their response:

“Much of Cardinal Dulles’ s critique of these concepts in Reflections flows from his reading of the New Testament. …”

“Thus, we are troubled by Cardinal Dulles’s assertion that the Letter to the Hebrews offers “the most formal statement of the status of the Sinai Covenant under Christianity. …”

“In contrast, we argue that official Catholic teaching today has, in the Biblical Commission’s 1993 formulation, ‘gone its own way’ and ‘set aside’ the opinion of the author of Hebrews about Israel’s covenant. …”

“The magisterium can explicitly contradict an idea of an individual New Testament author because the Catholic tradition is one of commentary , not of sola scriptura (Scripture alone). …”

What appears to have ‘gone its own way’ and been ‘set aside’ is the faith of these scholars.

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Peter Herbeck

Inside the Vatican (October 2002) contained an article entitled, Has the Teaching Changed?, by Peter Herbeck, Vice President of Renewal Ministries. Peter writes:

“… it is troubling to think that those appointed by the American bishops to spearhead the interreligious dialogue with the Jewish community are coming up with conclusions that contradict the teaching of scripture and the Magisterium.”

Later in his article, Peter quotes Fr. David Maria Jaeger, an Israeli-born Hebrew Catholic priest, regarding ‘the Church’s obligation to seek to fulfill her mission even in Israel. He states,’

“In Hebrew-speaking Israel this solemn teaching of the Council, which in fact simply expands the great Commission given to the Church by Her Lord Himself (cf. Mt 28:18), is yet to be put into practice. This obedience is not optional, no one on earth has the power to forbid it, and no arguments can be adduced against it from contemporary developments in this or that field of thought or practice, for ‘the Church has the obligation, and also the sacred right to evangelize (Ad gentes, 7).”

Finally, Peter quotes Professor David Berger, an Orthodox Jewish scholar commenting on Dominus Iesus:

“The central theme of the entire declaration, underscored on virtually every page, is that salvation comes in only one essential fashion for all humanity, and that is through the triune God of Christianity and his embodied word; to suggest that Jews, who reject belief in both trinity and incarnation, attain salvation outside this otherwise universal system is to render the document virtually incoherent.”

Peter concludes

“I am afraid that Dr. Berger has a clearer understanding of what the Catholic Church teaches than the Catholic authors of ‘Reflections …’”

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Fr. Peter Hocken

Mishkan (Issue 36, 2002, Caspari Center for Biblical and Jewish Studies, Jerusalem), contained an article entitled, Catholic Statements on the Church, the Jewish People and Mission to the Jews, by Fr. Peter Hocken

In the first part of the article, Father reviews various Catholic statements relating to the Jewish people and some papal statements that provide guidance in interpretation. In particular, Father focuses on Nostra Aetate.

In the concluding paragraph of the section entitled, The Irrevocable Covenant with Israel, Father writes:

“There is here a teaching developing that does not see Israel’s instrumental-salvific role as limited to giving birth to the Messiah and to the Christian Church. Rather, through the irrevocable covenant, the Jewish people and Judaism are still bearers of divine revelation in a mysterious way that is not easy to formulate. Such a formulation will not be possible, it would seem, until there is greater clarity about what was lost or weakened in the ancient Church through a wrong understanding of the Jewish people and God’s covenant with them.”

In the next section of the article, Mission and the Jewish People, Father notes:

“It is clear that the magisterium (teaching office) of the Catholic Church has in the last 40 years consistently taught that (1) Judaism is unique among non-Christian religions and (2) dialogue and evangelization are not to be seen as alternatives, but both are necessary in relation to non-Christian religions.

After quoting the Holy Father regarding these ideas, Father states:

“There are two issues here: first, the repudiation of all proselytism, of unworthy forms of evangelism that do not respect the human dignity and socio-cultural heritage of the recipients; secondly, there is the question of sensitivity to what the Jewish people have already received through their election and through divine revelation. The first concerns what forms of religious expansion are morally reprehensible; the second, how presentation of the gospel to the Jews should differ from its presentation to gentile peoples.”

In the final section of this article, entitled Mission and the Identity of Judaism, Father asks how are we to rightly understand the relationship between the covenants if, simultaneously, we “accept the irrevocability of the covenant with Israel” and “also believe in the uniqueness of the incarnation of the Son of God and in the saving mystery of his death and resurrection?”

Father’s response to this question:

“It is characteristic of Catholic magisterial teaching to hold open such challenging questions, allowing and hopefully encouraging further research, and only to act authoritatively to close out unacceptable solutions that shortchange some aspect of the mystery. One ‘solution’ advocated by some theologians is to emphasize the salvific character of the covenant with Israel, establishing a real relationship with the living God, and thereby suggesting that evangelization of the Jewish people is denying the validity of the first covenant. In some, this view finds expression in a theory of each faith having its own covenant by which its adherents are saved.

“A major figure in the Vatican, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, the prefect of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, responsible for doctrinal orthodoxy in the Catholic Church, clearly does not share such views. In a collection of essays entitled Many Religions–One Covenant (San Francisco, Ignatius Press, 1999), Ratzinger emphasizes the inherent connectedness of all the biblical covenants, insisting on the inner continuity of salvation history, and the fulfillment of the Torah through the Law of the Gospel. ‘The Law is read prophetically, in the inner tension of the promise’ (Many Religions-One Covenant, p.37). He sees their connectedness in relation to the heart of the Father: their unity is rooted in the unity of their author. ‘The Gospel thus brings the Law to its fullness through imitation of the perfection of the heavenly Father.’ (Op. cit., p.33, citing CCC, para. 19680)

“Though Ratzinger does not treat dialogue as recognizing the ‘integrity’ of Judaism, his position on the inter-connectedness of the covenants excludes recognition of Judaism as an integrally valid way of salvation. The rightful insistence on approaching Judaism ‘in its own identity’ means that we listen to them seeking to recognize all that is true and worthy, refusing to judge them on the basis of who we are. In particular, I suggest that it means being alert for elements of divine revelation and wisdom, expressed in the Old Testament and maybe also in the New, that never found a place in Christian life because of our rejection of the Jews, yet found a continuing expression in the Jewish community.

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Roy Schoeman

Ed. The following appeared as a ‘Letter to the Editor’ of Inside the Vatican magazine. In this critique, Roy focuses on how Reflections deprives Catholics of the full truth and beauty of their faith and deprives Jews of the true honor and glory of their identity and heritage.

As a Jew who has gratefully entered the Catholic Church, I thank you for your thoughtful coverage of the recent USCCB Reflections document (Inside the Vatican, “A Troubling Document,” January 2003). An intelligent response to it could fill a book – in fact, the book I just wrote, Salvation is From the Jews (forthcoming later this year from Ignatius Press), is in many ways such a response. Yet I would nonetheless like to make a few comments.

The ‘dual covenant’ theory which has emerged from the U.S. Bishops–sponsored Jewish/Catholic dialogue portrays Christianity as a modified version of Judaism, one appropriate for the Gentiles (non-Jews), enabling them to worship the one true God and share the moral and ethical truths of Judaism without being part of the special covenant which God made with the ‘seed of Abraham’.

Since this both confirms the objective validity of Judaism and establishes the inappropriateness of Jewish conversion to Christianity, it is naturally very appealing to the Jewish side of the dialogue, which is willing, in return, to acknowledge the value and virtue of the Christian religion and of its founder, the Jew Jesus. It is an ideal solution to eliminate any tension between the two sides and enable them to be mutually supportive of each others’ faiths.

It is, unfortunately, entirely incompatible with the truths of Christianity. For the Gospel makes abundantly clear that Jesus came first for the Jews, for instance, Matthew 15:24 –“I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”It was to Jews that He said “unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God” (John 2:5) and to Jews that He said: “Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you” (John 6:53).Jesus spent his entire life and ministry evangelizing Jews, not Gentiles; He was crucified for evangelizing Jews, not Gentiles (cf. Luke 20:14, John 11:47-53). If God did not intend the new covenant for the Jews, then Jesus got it wrong; St. Peter, the first Pope and the ‘apostle to the Jews’ got it wrong; St. Paul, the premier theologian for all of Christianity got it wrong, not only in his epistles but in his own conversion and in his repeated sufferings for evangelizing Jews; St. Stephen, the very first Christian martyr, stoned for evangelizing the Jews, got it wrong (cf. Acts 6-7); all twelve Apostles, all ‘converted’ Jews, got it wrong; and on and on and on.

The theology presented by Reflections is a tragedy for both Catholics and for Jews.It is a tragedy for Catholics because it not only sells out the fundamentals of the faith, but it deprives them of seeing the incomparable beauty of God’s plan for salvation over its entire span; a plan that begins mysteriously at the fall of Adam; which develops through the preparation of the Jewish people culminating in the only perfect human being ever (the Jewish Virgin Mary), and which is fulfilled in the Jewish Messiah, Jesus, and the Church, the Catholic Church, which He left behind.

It also does a disservice to God, for it denies the words of His son Jesus; it denies the truths He revealed, and it denies Him the joy He has in receiving His especially beloved Jewish people in the intimacy available only through His Church and its sacraments.

But it is most of all a tragedy for the Jews, for it deprives them of the opportunity of knowing the fullness of the truth of revelation; it deprives them of the incomparable joy and consolation of the intimacy with God achieved only though the sacraments; it deprives them of the eternal salvific benefits which flow from the Church and the sacraments. And most ironically, it deprives them of the true honor and glory of their own religion, of their own identity – of being part of the people and the religion which brought about the salvation of all mankind, the people through whom God became man, the people related to God in the flesh.

Reflections was presumably motivated by charity, however misplaced. I beg the Bishops and all other Catholics to prayerfully consider where true charity to their Jewish ‘elder brethren’ (in the words of John Paul II) lies and to reach out to them with the truth, the full truth, of the glory, the beauty, the importance of being Jewish – a glory which is found in the truths of the Catholic Faith.

  • You are my witnesses (Is. 43:10)  •  You shall be my witnesses (Acts 1:8)