Should Catholic Evangelization Target Jews?, Ed. John Zmirak
The Bishops’ View, Dr. Eugene Fisher
A Man from Mars, Fr. James V. Schall, S.J.
Their Joy is Boundless, Dr. Ronda Chervin
All Israel Will Be Saved, Fr. Francis Martin
The Church Must Proclaim Christ, Mark Drogin
Intended Only for Gentiles?, David Moss
The Bishops’ View
by Dr. Eugene Fisher
Associate Director, Secretariat for Ecumenical and
National Conference of Catholic Bishops
Our Secretariat has received quite a number of letters and emails, and seen critiques and appreciations on a number of websites and in the media. It is gratifying to see the interest and concern expressed by Catholics in the efforts of a well-qualified dialogue team which was asked to undertake the task of bringing together the various strands of Church teaching on Jews and Judaism, however well or poorly they feel that team accomplished what was asked of it.
Obviously, a brief note such as the Register asked me to prepare cannot do justice to all of the arguments presented, whether pro or con. There does seem, underneath the fractious rhetoric of some, to be emerging a pattern of critical response worth contemplating as we move forward together in our discernment of what is, after all, one of the sacred mysteries of the faith.
For as the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council stated, it is when “pondering her own mystery” that the Church encounters the Mystery of Israel, a statement that can be made of no other non-Christian religion. First, few of the critiques attempt to grapple with the significant body of reflections of the Holy Father on Jews and Judaism over the past quarter of a century. This is odd, because by all accounts this area is one of the central concerns of the present pontificate. The Holy Father has called the Jewish witness to the Holocaust, for example, a “saving warning” to all humanity, including the Church, which reveals God’s people, the Jews, to be “still the heirs of that election to which God is faithful.” He has spoken, time and again, of how the Church’s basic posture to the Jewish People in our time must be one of respectful dialogue, as he himself has exemplified in his prayerful visit to the Great Synagogue of Rome (the first pontiff since St.Peter to pray with the Jews of Rome in their synagogue) and even more in Jerusalem. The pope’s words and deeds, I would argue, have not been mere publicity stunts but deeply significant statements of faith, the meaning of which Catholics are called to ponder as a “sign of the times.”
Second, few of the critiques have taken into account the progress in biblical studies since the Second Vatican Council in Nostra Aetate called for a reevaluation of the positive elements of the New Testament’s attitudes toward Jews and Judaism, especially in the Epistle of St. Paul to the Romans, chapters 9-11. These studies have shed new light on ancient verses, as is the way of Catholic tradition, renewing them for our time and for future generations. Some of the more significant results of these Catholic studies are embodied today in the recent statement of the Pontifical Biblical Commission, The Jewish People and their Sacred Scriptures in the Christian Bible, This text has been available since November in French and Italian and since April in English.
Third, there does appear to be an overwhelming consensus, even among the critical, that for pastoral reasons stemming from the long, often tragic history of Christian mistreatment of Jews, there should be no aggressive, organized proselytizing of Jews under Church auspices. Any such efforts, given that history, would almost inevitably threaten the freedom of faith relationship between God and the Jews that Catholics cherish. The problem many have with “Reflections” lies in its assertion, based upon statements especially of the Pontifical Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews, that there may be theological as well as pastoral reasons for this restraint. These reasons, as adduced by “Reflections” flow from the respect Catholics give to Judaism–and Judaism alone among world religions–as a faith-response to God. This in itself is hardly an arguable theological affirmation, being firmly embedded in Church teaching as seen, for example, in the Catechism of the Catholic Church (no. 839). The controversy appears to flow from understanding the Covenant between God and the Jewish People, to use the word used by Cardinal Walter Kasper, president of the Pontifical Commission, as in some meaningful sense “salvific.”
If the Covenant perdures and has not been replaced or superseded by the Christian Covenant, then what can it be called other than “salvific” for Jews? Is not God true to his word? Cannot the Jews rely on the truth of God’s word to them? Supersessionism, readers should recall, was declared a heresy by the Church in the second century when Marcion of Pontus first proposed it. It still is. So, if I may, I would challenge those who would criticize Cardinal Kasper, the Pontifical Commission, and Reflections to come up with better language, a better theological framework, if you will, by which we can affirm God’s truth to Israel and to us, for it has the same Source. I do not believe that an affirmation of the universal salvific validity of the Christ event and the consequent realization that in the Church one finds the fullness of the means of salvation necessarily leads us to hold that God has broken His word by rejecting the undying hope and faith His ineffable grace and inscrutable will have instilled in the people He chose for Himself so long ago. Granted, we deal here with mysteries of the faith, as Paul concludes in Romans 11, that are in the last analysis beyond our ken. But we have, as the People of God of the New Covenant, to wrestle to discern their meaning in a constructive and positive way, one which, just perhaps, articulates the theological vision behind our common pastoral instinct at the beginning of the Third Millennium of our most ancient, most vibrant dialogue of faith.
A number of the better critiques, in my opinion, go after what they feel is an ambiguous use of terminology in Reflections regarding key terms (evangelization, mission, fulfillment, etc.). But virtually all of the critiques for the finding of Christ by his own people, and respect for life from womb to tomb.