Fr. Louis BouyerEd. This reprint appeared in The Hebrew Catholic #73, Winter 2001, pg. 13,27. This reflection, written about 30 years ago by the learned French convert theologian Father Louis Bouyer, was included in the April 2000 issue of Inside the Vatican. Permission to reprint was granted by Inside the Vatican magazine. For subscription information, call 1-800-789-9494 or 1-270-325-5499 or fax to 1-270-325-3091.
The Mystery of Israel and the Church is not susceptible at this point to interpretation which would dispel all obscurities. We are speaking of the Epistle to the Romans, chapters 9 to 11, and without giving a complete exegesis, we must point out its most salient points.
The first is the statement that the Church of the Gentiles subsists only as a graft on the trunk of Israel. The second is the statement that “God did not reject his people,” for he “foreknew them”; his promises are always kept. (Romans 11:2)
In the first place, the Christian Church has been peopled for innumerable generations almost exclusively with “pagans” and has always been tempted to forget what she could not misunderstand without destroying herself: she is the definitive People of God, and she can subsist as such only by being, and remaining, grafted onto Israel.
Indeed, the Church is the Body of Christ, but this body, which each eucharistic celebration asserts more profoundly, is the body of a Jew in whom all Israel finds its fulfillment. The blood whose communion is in us as the living source of eternal life is also the blood of David and Abraham.
Christianity will always be the legacy of Israel, which the Jews alone could give to the whole of mankind.
Renewed as the People of God by the work accomplished by Jesus in the flesh, the Jewish people, after the risen Lord sent his apostles on mission, live in the substance of their institutions, in the Word whose bearers they are… despite all progressively universalizing adaptations. The universalization of the People of God in the Church is not in denial by Christ of his Jewishness, but in its transfiguring fulfillment.
In Jesus, we may say, all of Judaism was crucified; but Jesus’ wounds were necessary for the divine blood to flow and to communicate, to the whole of mankind, the power of participation in the resurrection, which was first that of the preeminent, the perfect, Jew: Jesus of Nazareth.
Pius XII’s statement that “we are all spiritual Semites” goes much further than one ordinarily thinks. There is nothing in the fundamental, permanent institutions of the Church which is not Jewish in its source.
The Word of the Gospel, as Christ uttered it, as the apostles elucidated it, is woven entirely of the written Word of the Old Testament and its living commentary in Jewish tradition. To uproot them from the New Testament would make it not only incomprehensible but dumb and empty, for all its notions, images, and vocabulary, like all the realities to which this totality applies, proceeds from the Old Testament, and from the unwritten as well as the written Torah.
Hence this profound and little-noticed truth: the Old Testament has so influenced the New that every Christian, like the whole Church, can enter and progress in the mystery of Christ only through the history of Israel. It is necessary that the Jewish Passover be reproduced and transfigured to be fulfilled in the death and resurrection of Jesus; and it is necessary that Christ’s new Passover in the Eucharist become ours.
Judeo-Christianity cannot be considered a transitory phase of abolished Christianity, forever surpassed by pagano-Christianity, which would have triumphed over it. The Christian synthesis must always be renewed by renewing its contact with the primary and, in a sense, definitive expression of the Gospel, in the categories and forms of Judaism.
Judeo-Christianity, as Paul and Peter recognized and proclaimed, remains forever the mother form of Christianity, to which all other forms must always have recourse. It is therefore a weakness for the Church that Judeo-Christianity, from which it was born and from which it cannot free itself, no longer subsists in her except in tracings. It can be believed that she will not reach the ultimate stage of her development except by rediscovering it – fully living in her.
If only because it reserves this possibility to the end of time, the religious survival of Judaism ought to appear providential to Christians. As experience has shown, Christians have unceasingly felt the need for recourse to the surviving tradition of Judaism. To renew themselves in understanding the Gospel and the whole of Christian tradition, it is necessary that they be continually refreshed in their perception of its primary source.
St. Paul said, “It is not you who bear the stock of the vine, it is the stock which bears you.” It remains forever destined that the pagans’ entry into the Church will find its fullness only in the final salvation of the Jews.
Israel’s fidelity to the Torah, which today seems closed on itself but is still directed by invincible hope, will finally open itself — we think — to their witness in order to be part of a new form of Judeo-Christianity. This will not be a premature halt of Christian flowering in its first principle, but the last fruit of the great tree of all the sons of Abraham.
Thus the Church of the latter days would be neither a Jewish Church nor a Church of Gentiles, but “Mount Sion, the heavenly Jerusalem, the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven” (Hebrews 12:22-23). It would be broadened to gather in “all the children of God who are scattered abroad” (John 11:52).
[Excerpts from Louis Bouyer, L’Eglise de Dieu. 1970; English translation by Rev. Charles Underhill Quinn, ©1982 Franciscan Herald Press.]