Christians, Jews and the Sacred Scriptures

This week, Pope Benedict published a 208 page document giving the core of his official views for the Church. Most of it has to do with the Bible. Several small sections set out what may be the new standard in Christian-Jewish relations. I have at least two weeks to produce a statement for the press since the document is so long, the Catholic press has yet to digest it, and for a Jewish paper to cover the topic two weeks later is fine. I will be discussing various parts of this very binding document and then posting my 850 words without any theological words in two weeks. In the meantime, © Alan Brill 2010, all rights reserved.

We will deal with pages 76-78 on the relationship of Judaism to Christianity.

Christians, Jews and the Sacred Scriptures

43. Having considered the close relationship between the New Testament and the Old, we now naturally turn to the special bond which that relationship has engendered between Christians and Jews, a bond that must never be overlooked. Pope John Paul II, speaking to Jews, called them “ our ‘beloved brothers’ in the faith of Abraham, our Patriarch ”.141 To acknowledge this fact is in no way to disregard the instances of discontinuity which the New Testament asserts with regard to the institutions of the Old Testament, much less the fulfillment of the Scriptures in the mystery of Jesus Christ, acknowledged as Messiah and Son of God. All the same, this profound and radical difference by no means implies mutual hostility. The example of Saint Paul (cf. Rom 9-11) shows on the contrary that “ an attitude of respect, esteem and love for the Jewish people is the only truly Christian attitude in the present situation, which is a mysterious part of God’s wholly positive plan ”.142 Indeed, Saint Paul says of the Jews that: “ as regards election they are beloved for the sake of their forefathers, for the gifts and the call of God are irrevocable! ” (Rom 11:28-29).

For Pope Benedict, the relationship of the two religions is because of shared scripture and the sharing of God’s revelation to Abraham (as defined in Romans, Galatians, and Hebrews). Benedict does not attempt to acknowledge the Jewish understanding of these passages in Genesis or to acknowledge the Jewish self-understanding of the role of Moses and Torah. He does, however, state that the commonality does not invalidate the discontinuity of institutions and how the New Testament fulfills the Old.
The difference is “profound and radical.” This return to fulfillment language after a several decade absence was already used in his homilies last year.

Benedict does seek to avoid any mutual hostility, rather to seek respect and love. His reason is because the separation of Judaism and Christianity is part of a mysterious plan on God’s part for some greater purpose. God gave the Jews an irrevocable gift. Why? We dont know. We do know that it has a productive role. This is the line of text for Christian theologians to crawl through to create a theology of Judaism. Even if Christians acknowledge separate covenants for Jews and Christians, they are not mutual since Christianity is the fulfillment of the Biblical promise. Expect speeches trying to give this paragraph a positive spin. And needless to say, none of this is from the Jewish perspective.

Saint Paul also uses the lovely image of the olive tree to describe the very close relationship between Christians and Jews: the Church of the Gentiles is like a wild olive shoot, grafted onto the good olive tree that is the people of the Covenant (cf. Rom 11:17-24). In other words, we draw our nourishment from the same spiritual roots. We encounter one another as brothers and sisters who at certain moments in their history have had a tense relationship, but are now
firmly committed to building bridges of lasting friendship.143
As Pope John Paul II said on another occasion: “ We have much in common. Together we can do much for peace, justice and for a more fraternal and more humane world ”.144

This is a paraphrase of Nosta Aetate paragraph four, but Moses and the prophets are not mentioned here. More importantly, it does it mention the vision of a reconciliation. It does acknowledge, albeit tersely, prior anti-Jewish attitudes. Now, there should be lasting friendship. Benedict has been firmly committed to friendship with the Jews, so Jews should have tackled more fundamental issues of historical anti-Jewish texts. Instead,we squandered our audiences and communications on a crazy excommunicated Bishop and on how Benedict’s speeches could be parsed for bad. We need to work together or peace, justice, and more fraternal and human world. Nothing specifically Jewish-Christian there.

I wish to state once more how much the Church values her dialogue with the Jews. Wherever it seems appropriate, it would be good to create opportunities for encounter and exchange in public as well as in private, and thus to promote growth in reciprocal knowledge, in mutual esteem and cooperation, also in the study of the sacred Scriptures.

Conclusion more dialogue and study of Scriptures. (For Jews who dont know that dialogue for Catholics is currently a generic term meaning everything from social action to soup kitchens to study of Jewish history to attending a Holocaust memorial, see Dialogue and Proclamation, section 3.

140 Propositio 29.
141 JOHN PAUL II, Message to the Chief Rabbi of Rome
(22 May 2004): Insegnamenti XXVII, 1 (2004), p. 655.
142 Cf. PONTIFICAL BIBLICAL COMMISSION, The Jewish People and their Sacred Scriptures in the Christian Bible (24 May 2001), 87: Enchiridion Vaticanum 20, No. 1150.
143 Cf. BENEDICT XVI, Farewell Discourse at Ben Gurion International Airport in Tel Aviv (15 May 2009): Insegnamenti, V, 1 (2009), 847-849.
144 JOHN PAUL II, Address to the Chief Rabbis of Israel
(23 March 2000): Insegnamenti XXIII, 1 (2000), 434.

Benedict’s footnotes are reliant on his recent speeches. He does not use the more open to Judaism “Notes on the Correct Way to Present Jews and Judaism in Preaching and Catechesis in the Roman Catholic Church” Written by Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews from 1985. But we dont even hear “Jewish messianic expectation is not in vain” from Cardinal Ratzinger’s document cited in footnote 143.

On page 74, two pages before the section discussed above, Benedict wrote his transition to this section.He then seemingly inserted page 75 on a different topic, breaking the original transition).

we must not forget that the Old Testament retains its own inherent value as revelation… Early Christian catechesis made constant use of the Old Testament (cf. 1 Cor 5:6-8; 1 Cor 10:1- 11) ”.For this reason the Synod Fathers stated that “ the Jewish understanding of the Bible can prove helpful to Christians for their own understanding and study of the Scriptures ”.

This is an acknowledgment that one can learn from Jewish exegesis, both traditional and scholarly. Yet, his proof is not Jerome or Nicholas of Lyra, rather the New Testament itself. It seems to imply that the NT used the OT, as an independent and outside source. It does not give a feeling of setting the NT in Jewish context. It gives a feeling that a non-typological reading still has some value, even though the NT is radically past literal readings. I am not sure that the small army of Catholic Tanakh teachers would formulate the matter this way.

(Please if you want to enter the discussion by commenting then be willing and eager to read and discuss these documents. And even to learn about the last decades of discussion and documents. If not, then this isn’t the place.)

3 responses to “Christians, Jews and the Sacred Scriptures

  1. Please correct me if I’m wrong, but for the hardliners within the Church, if it’s not spoken Ex Cathedra or as a result of a Council, it’s not “very binding”.

  2. You write: “Jews should have tackled more fundamental issues of historical anti-Jewish texts.”

    It seems to me that the orthodox resistance to dialogue (on theological aspects of the relationship) makes that difficult. Liberal Jews have done that.

    I hear your argument, but I also understand that there is a pragmatic side that wants to focus on behavior in the here and now.

  3. Len- you have a lot of begged premises, but conservatives will probably treat the parts they like as ex-cathedra.
    Yerachmiel- Your out of your league. When Rabbi Shaar Yashuv Cohen spoke at the synod of Bishops or the various Israeli Rabbis spoke when Benedict visited Israel, they had none of the concerns of your American orthodox-liberal divide.
    Dont use the incorrect gossip of Orthodox laity to evaluate the situation. The Israeli Rabbis are not part of the 1965 American debates. In fact, Rabbi Metzger’s speech did in fact make theological requests.
    And I was not asking for a theological discussion. Pope Benedict has repeated said that Patristic anti-Judaism is wrong and should be rejected. I was just asking for someone to remind him of his own agenda in order that he leave behind a full text of his thoughts.

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