Tag Archives: Pope Benedict

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks- Introductory Speaker for Pope Benedict.

Last Friday, the eve of Yom Kippur, Lord Rabbi Jonathan Sacks gave the introductory speech before Pope Benedict addressed and interfaith gathering in the chapel at St Marys University College in Twickenham.

Rabbi Sacks seems to have invested a great deal of time and import to the visit. He first prepared his own Jewish community in a message conveying the importance of the event, he then issued a message to the British newspapers, and finally he gave a third message before the religious leaders assembled in the chapel waiting to hear Pope Benedict’s message. In total three messages about the Pope’s visit before Yom Kippur.

Atonement and Forgiveness was his message for the Jewish community. In this talk, he starts with the persecutions of Judaism by Christianity, but he segues into the Jewish need to recognize the Christian change in attitude and their sincere reconciliation. Catholic and Jews are now friends. The chief rabbis applies the message of Yom Kippur of atonement and forgiveness to the Catholic Church and seeks a healing of the relationship of the two faiths.

Selections from “Atonement and Forgiveness, still have the power to transform relationships”
The story might have continued were it not for the darkest night of all, the Holocaust. In the wake of that event, a very great Pope indeed, Pope John XXIII, who had helped save many lives in the war years, began to reflect on the history of Christian attitudes toward the Jews, and came to the conclusion that those attitudes must change.

In 1962 he convened the Second Vatican Council, setting in motion what became three years later, though he did not live to see it, the declaration Nostra Aetate, “In Our Age.” It redefined the relationship between the Catholic Church and other faiths, especially Judaism and Islam. It was one of the greatest acts of reconciliation in religious history, and today Catholics and Jews meet not as enemies or strangers but as friends.

And by one of those coincidences that seem providential, the night of that meeting, this Friday, will be the beginning of the holiest day of the Jewish year, the Day of Atonement, our festival of forgiveness. How moving it will be, this year, to bear witness to how those two ancient ideas, atonement and forgiveness, still have the power to transform relationships and heal the wounds of time.

Rabbi Sack spoke in the chapel as the representative of all non-Catholic faiths. He praises the Vatican for its important Nosta Aetate and its instrumental role in creating an ecumenical environment. Sacks considers the secularization of the Seventeenth Century as due to the inability of religions to live peacefully together. It is interesting to note that Sacks does not quote Torah, rather John Henry Cardinal Newman, and Pope Benedict’s own Caritas in Veritate. In seeming appreciation nd agreement with the Pope, he quotes: “the development of peoples depends . . . on a recognition that the human race is a single family, working together in true communion, not simply a group of subjects who happen to live side by side.”

Sacks gives his own theology when he states: “We celebrate both our commonalities and differences, because if we had nothing in common we could not communicate, and if we had everything in common, we would have nothing to say. “ We all have commonalities in faith and we have difference neither side should be ignored. There is one monotheistic God, but we should give dignity to our differences as enriching the world.

Some of the commonalities of Judaism with Christianity and other religions is that: “We believe in marriage as a commitment, parenthood as a responsibility, and the poetry of everyday life when it is etched, in homes and schools, with the charisma of holiness and grace.” He continues, “In our communities we value people…for what they are, every one of them a fragment of the Divine presence. We hold life holy. And each of us is lifted by the knowledge that we are part of something greater than all of us, that created us in forgiveness and love, and asks us to create in forgiveness and love. His further expansion of the ideas of faith itself as important and that we can relate to one another at a universal level of the God in the soul, which encourages engaging the other. “we recognize in one another the presence of faith itself, that habit of the heart that listens to the music beneath the noise, and knows that God is the point at which soul touches soul and is enlarged by the presence of otherness.”

Sack as a firm believer in having an Establishment Church assumes that “one of our commonalities is that we surely all believe that faith has a major role in strengthening civil society.”

Finally, Sacks concludes with the need to show honor to the Pope who has lead all of us “with wisdom and generosity of spirit, and may all
our efforts combine to become a blessing to humanity and to God.”

The entire Opening address at Interfaith gathering for Papal Visit

We welcome you, leader of a great faith, to this gathering of many faiths, in a land where once battles were fought in the name of faith,
and where now we share friendship across faiths.

That is a climate change worth celebrating. And we recognize the immense role the Vatican played and continues to play in bringing it about. It was Nostra Aetate, 45 years ago, that brought about the single greatest transformation in interfaith relations in recent history, and we recognize your visit here today as a new chapter in that story, and a vital one.

The secularization of Europe that began in the seventeenth century did not happen because people lost faith in God. Newton and Descartes, heroes of the Enlightenment, believed in God very much indeed. What led to secularization was that people lost faith in the ability of people of faith to live peaceably together. And we must never go down that road again. We remember the fine words of John Henry Cardinal Newman, “We should ever conduct ourselves towards our enemy as if he were one day to be our friend,” as well as your own words, in Caritas in Veritate, that “the development of peoples depends . . . on a recognition that the human race is a single family, working together in true communion, not simply a group of subjects who happen to live side by side.”

We celebrate both our commonalities and differences, because if we had nothing in common we could not communicate, and if we had everything in common, we would have nothing to say. You have spoken of the Catholic Church as a creative minority. And perhaps that is what we should all aspire to be, creative minorities, inspiring one another, and bringing our different gifts to the common good.

Britain has been so enriched by its minorities, by every group represented here today and the intricate harmonies of our several voices. And one of our commonalities is that we surely all believe that faith has a major role in strengthening civil society.

In the face of a deeply individualistic culture, we offer community. Against consumerism, we talk about the things that have value but not a price. Against cynicism we dare to admire and respect. In the face of fragmenting families, we believe in consecrating relationships. We believe in marriage as a commitment, parenthood as a responsibility, and the poetry of everyday life when it is etched, in homes and schools, with the charisma of holiness and grace.

In our communities we value people not for what they earn or what they buy or how they vote but for what they are, every one of them a fragment of the
Divine presence. We hold life holy. And each of us is lifted by the knowledge that we are part of something greater than all of us, that created us in forgiveness and love, and asks us to create in forgiveness and love. Each of us in our own way is a guardian of values that are in danger of being lost, in our short-attention-span, hyperactive, information-saturated, wisdom-starved age. And though our faiths are profoundly different, yet we recognize in one another the presence of faith itself, that habit of the heart that listens to the music beneath the noise, and knows that God is the point at which soul touches soul and is enlarged by the presence of otherness.

You have honoured us with your presence, and we honour you. May you continue to lead with wisdom and generosity of spirit, and may all our efforts combine to become a blessing to humanity and to God.

The third piece that Sacks wrote was an op-ed message to the Pope about how the loss of faith in Europe has led to its loss of vitality and decent into a decadence without family, with poverty, suicide, and depression. Sack’s answer is to return to the 19th century values of Newman. A subtext is that the Pope can accomplish more as an intellectual and public religious figure, kinda like Sacks himself, than as the monarch over the Church.

selections from General message to the Pope

Times Op Ed – The Pope will find more glory without power

The current Pope is more than the leader of the largest religious community in the world. He is also a significant public intellectual with a strong sense of history

.According to Save the Children, 3.9 million children are today living in poverty, 1.7 million of them in severe, persistent poverty. 4000 children call Childline every day. 100,000 children run away from home every year. 20 per cent of deaths among young people aged from 15 to 24 are suicides. In 2009, 29.4 million antidepressants were dispensed, up 334 per cent from 1985. During the same period, Samaritans answered 4.6 million calls from people in distress. An estimated one million elderly people do not see a friend or neighbour during an average week.

These are the kinds of social problem that cannot be solved by government spending. They are the result of the breakdown of families and communities and the loss of trust and social capital. In the broadest sense, they have to do with culture and the lack of a shared moral code. Having lost much of its Christian heritage, Britain does not seem to have found a satisfying substitute.

Yet in the nineteenth century it became re-moralized in a process in which John Henry Newman, the man Pope Benedict XVI has come to beatify, played a significant part. It was a joint effort of churches, temperance movements, Sunday schools, charities and friendly societies. It was, admittedly, an imperialistic age, but it also saw the abolition of slavery, the birth of universal education, and campaigns against inhuman working conditions and cruel punishments. It showed that national decline is not inevitable. A culture can be renewed Britain

The Pope himself was equally enamored with Rabbi Sacks who was specially invited to give the address. He wished Jews “a happy and holy celebration of Yom Kippur.” And resonated with Sacks’ universalism. “I would like to begin my remarks by expressing the Catholic Church’s appreciation for the important witness that all of you bear as spiritual men and women living at a time when religious convictions are not always understood or appreciated.”

Pope Benedict paraphrased one of Rabbi Sacks ideas in his own speech. Sacks talks about working side by side in making the world better as well as face to face in dialogue. “As followers of different religious traditions working together for the good of the community at large, we attach great importance to this “side by side” dimension of our cooperation, which complements the “face to face” aspect of our continuing dialogue.” Then Pope Benedict translated the two aspects into the Church’s official PCID four aspects.

Ever since the Second Vatican Council, the Catholic Church has placed special emphasis on the importance of dialogue and cooperation with the followers of other religions. In order to be fruitful, this requires reciprocity on the part of all partners in dialogue and the followers of other religions…Once such a respect and openness has been established, peoples of all religions will work together effectively for peace and mutual understanding, and so give a convincing witness before the world.

This kind of dialogue needs to take place on a number of different levels, and should not be limited to formal discussions The dialogue of life [a form of “side by side” dialogue] involves simply living alongside one another and learning from one another in such a way as to grow in mutual knowledge and respect. The dialogue of action [another form of “side by side” dialogue] brings us together in concrete forms of collaboration, as we apply our religious insights to the task of promoting integral human development, working for peace, justice and the stewardship of creation. Such a dialogue may include exploring together how to defend human life at every stage and how to ensure the non-exclusion of the religious dimension of individuals and communities in the life of society. Then at the level of formal conversations [“face to face” dialogue], there is a need not only for theological exchange, but also sharing our spiritual riches [formally known as a “dialogue of religious experience” ], speaking of our experience of prayer and contemplation, and expressing to one another the joy of our encounter with divine love.

My dear friends, as I conclude my remarks, let me assure you that the Catholic Church follows the path of engagement and dialogue out of a genuine sense of respect for you and your beliefs

Does the Church ‘Get’ the Holocaust? A Response to Kevin Madigan

I agreed to give a Jewish response to the following paper by the Harvard historian Professor Kevin Madigan at a recent conference. The papers have just been published. Madigan spoke as a historian and I spoke about memory. For those interested in the topic, the papers provide a full bibliography in the footnotes.
Kevin Madigan, Has the Papacy ‘Owned’ Vatican Guilt for the Church’s Role in the Holocaust?
Alan Brill, Does the Church ‘Get’ the Holocaust? A Response to Kevin Madigan

Here are my conclusions. If you want more information then see the original papers or if you want to enter the discussion, then please read the original papers first.

A few concluding observations
(1) There is a sincere attempt by the Vatican for reconciliation, and reconciliation is indeed the goal.

(2) There is also a sincere attempt by the Vatican for moral reckoning of antisemitism; however, they also have other forefront concerns, including the pastoral, liturgical, and doctrinal life of the Church.

(3) I completely agree with Professor Madigan’s conclusions to the question about historic reckoning. Nevertheless, issues should not be conceptualized only in the present.

(4) However, the understanding of Jewish Holocaust memory is intermittent. Most of the time the Holocaust is understood as a Jewish tragedy, though Vatican speeches may not reveal this understanding. When going to a Holocaust memorial to show respect to the Jewish people while
accompanied by a group of Jews, Church representatives need to understand that the Holocaust is not the “30 million people killed by the fascists” nor is it a “universal problem of inhumanity and evil in the world.” For Jews, it is a war against six million Jews as Jews, with the Jews singled out for extermination. At a minimum this is demanded by diplomacy and propriety; at best it requires empathy for Jewish memory. There is a noticeable lack of a personal empathy and empathetic regret.

(5) Is there an understanding by the Church of the Jewish sense of the Tremendum? Do they “get” the Jewish silence, bereft of theological answers? Do they “get” the rupturing of Jewish faith, leaving a sense of Jewish brokenness? The answer is no. Few Jews evoke the eternal
covenants as a comfort
(6) Finally, current Church statements made in light of the Holocaust, are not addressing the past 2000 years of Christian anti-Judaism. Fr. Edward Flannery’s observation in the Introduction to his book The Anguish of the Jews” still holds true: Christians have torn from their history
books the pages that Jews have memorized.

From one of the sections that I was particularly interested in:
Pope Benedict conceptualizes the Holocaust using the critical theory of the Frankfort School, especially that of Theodore Adorno and Jürgen Habermas… He speaks to the Historikerstreit, occuring in the 1980s which debated the role of the Holocaust in history. He sides with Adorno and Habermas against Nolte and Fest. But this discussion does not in any way respond to Jewish memory.
Neither does his discussion of the Holocaust in Spe Salvi (In Hope We Are Saved) which asserts that the horrible injustices of history should not have the final word. There must finally be true justice. But that, in the words the Pope quotes from Adorno, would require a world “where not only present suffering would be wiped out, but also that which is irrevocably past would be undone.” This would mean the resurrection of the dead (no. 42). God now reveals his true face in the figure of the sufferer who shares man’s God-forsaken condition by taking it upon himself. This innocent sufferer has attained the certitude of hope: there is a God, and God can create justice in a way that we cannot conceive, yet we can begin to grasp it through faith. Yes, there is a resurrection of the flesh. (42-43)

In Benedict’s theological works on the Christian meaning of modernity, especially as typified by the Holocaust, his goal is to provide salvific hope before a rampant loss of values. Jewish memory of the Holocaust is not addressed. When Pope Benedict considers the theological
issues of the Holocaust he thinks of Adorno’s question and the pastoral answer of crucifixion and resurrection. He does not think of recent Jewish Holocaust theologians. In this, Pope Benedict is similar to many Orthodox Jewish theologians, who are not interested in historicity or Holocaust theology, and are more concerned with either the eternal values of the halakhah or the pastoral need to spread Judaism. They hear a commanding voice from Sinai and Zion and not from Auschwitz. Thus, it would be unfair to ask Benedict to adopt specific positions in Holocaust theology or to place the Jewish-Christian relationship at the center of his theology. He is a pastoral leader for Catholics, and he has a vision for their doctrinal, liturgical, and institutional needs. It is fair, however, to expect him to address the specific Jewish memory of the Holocaust when he is speaking to a Jewish audience at a Jewish sponsored event, such as at Yad Vashem.

If you have never read the Studies in Jewish Christian relations before, especially since it does not show up in google search, here is the first issue from 4 years ago, which is a good place to start.

Chief Rabbi di Segni on the Jewish Catholic Encounter

Interviews with Chief Rabbi di Segni  from January 12, and 14.

In an interview with Reuters ahead of this Sunday’s visit, Rabbi Riccardo di Segni also said he hoped the event would help combat hostility towards the Jewish world and intolerance of any religion.

INTERVIEW – Only God can judge Pius XII on Jews – chief rabbi

By Philip Pullella
ROME (Reuters) – Only God can judge whether wartime Pope Pius XII did enough to save Jews and whether he should have spoken out more forcefully against the Holocaust, the rabbi who will host Pope Benedict first visit to Rome’s synagogue said.

Di Segni was asked about a Vatican official who defended Pius — who became pope on the eve of World War Two — from accusations he turned a blind eye to the Holocaust.

“I think that it can be morally dangerous and, religiously speaking, dangerous to say that the will of God is to be silent and not to say a word in front of the suffering of the people,” Di Segni said, speaking in English.

“So let us be careful and let us not (look for) a way of absolving people. I think only God may understand if people have done His will righteously, not us,” he said.”Religion now has a tremendous responsibility in bringing either war or peace to the world. So a signal of peace and friendship starting here from Rome could be very important,” he said.

“As Jews we want to say very strongly that any kind of hatred against difference, and not only against the Jews, has to be banned, has to be condemned,” he said.

Another Interview in Catholic News Service

Rome rabbi says pope’s visit shows commitment to dialogue
Rabbi Riccardo Di Segni, the chief rabbi, told Catholic News Service there is “a solid basis” for positive relations, but “with a storm every now and then.”

“Times have changed,” the rabbi said. “Many things have been achieved; other things still need to be done. The path, the Jewish-Catholic encounter, is terribly complicated. It is not a smooth road leading onward, but it is one continually filled with stumbling blocks. The visit of a pope to the synagogue should demonstrate that beyond the stumbling blocks there is a substantial desire to communicate with each other and resolve problems.”
As is often the case, he said, “it’s hardest to establish good relations with the person closest to you.”

Side point on Bnei Akiva

Bnei Akiva’s local representatives said they decided to participate after hesitation and followed the advice of Rome’s Chief Rabbi Riccardo Di Segni, who said that the visit was a sign that Pope Benedict wanted to “continue the dialogue.” He advised Bnei Akiva that the pope should be “respected as a king.”

Rabbi Riccardo Di Segni (1949-) the current chief rabbi of Rome offers a unique take on the dialogue. He assumes that both sides accept exclusivism, so to go forward we have to affirm pluralism. Ever the gadfly, di Segni writes that the Jewish tradition follows the exclusivist and anti-Christian counter-gospel narrative of Toldot Yeshu,  on which he wrote his doctorate and then published as a book. For di Segni, Christians must recognize that the derogatory exclusivism Toldot Yeshu is the Jewish tradition, and this corresponds to the anti-Jewish narrative of traditional Christianity. He ponders that the Christian Trinity may actually be idolatry and violates the Noahite law that requires monotheism. If Christians violate this law, according to deSegni, they will not find salvation and are, furthermore, deserving of death in this world.

Noahite laws may be incumbent on gentiles as a form of general revelation but, Segni asks, if we took that seriously then wouldn’t we would have to be missionizing for these laws? So too, Christians if they should take their own faith seriously, should advocate missionizing.  Rabbi de Segni proposes therefore that both sides call a moratorium on truth claims and missionizing. It is not that either side should actually give up their truth claims, or their exclusivism, or to stop hoping for the conversion of the other, but simply a practical moratorium, a practical pluralism.

The real problem is not so much the Church’s conviction of the necessity for the Jews to be saved by means of Jesus. The real issue is what is done with that conviction. If we were to apply the system of Noahide laws to the latter, we would have to do everything possible in order that the Noahides observe them—including the law dealing with the prohibition against worship of other gods. Each person would have to become a missionary of the pure faith…

On the Jewish side, this movement would have to be matched by an affirmation of the principle that faith in Jesus (understood: on the part of Christians, not Jews ) is not incompatible with the worship of the one and only God. This is a principle which has been accepted in authoritative traditions within Judaism, but which would have to become more prevalent and accepted by the majority. From this would have to follow, on the part of Jews, a greater understanding of Christian Spirituality.

Moses Maimonides, in the rules he gives for kings in his treatise (Chapter 11), after having denounced the invalidity of faith in Jesus, nevertheless formulated an interpretation of the providential significance of the spread of Christianity, “to prepare the road for the king-Messiah, and to help the whole world become accustomed to serving God together, as it is said, ‘At that time I will change the speech of the peoples to a pure speech, that all of them may call on the name of the LORD and serve him with one accord’” (Zeph. 3:9).

Perhaps the parallel suggests the solution, which cannot be immediate but eschatological. Each of us has the right to hope that the other will acknowledge that there is true faith in us, but we allow for that to unfold over a long period, which is beyond our control.

Read full version here

Rabbi De Segni argues that we keep our particular truth claims but suspend acting on them until the end time. Since we have no common ground for discussion if we put our truth claims first, let us avoid the question and deal with ethics and practical matters.He frames questions as an exclusivist and then answers as a pluralist. Unlike other thinkers, De Segni values diversity over dignity, he emphasizes religious exclusivism and prejudice and then calls for charity.

Rabbi de Segni does work toward theological charity by building on Rabbi Yaakov Emden’s acceptance of Jesus as a great teacher who did not want to harm Judaism, and therefore legitimate for the gentiles since

In the end what counts is human responsibility. In the human realm, both faiths are called by God to work in the world.

As he left the ark, Noah received the assurance that humanity would never again be entirely destroyed by God. Now, however this risk still exists—not destruction by a divine hand, but by a human hand with no guarantees other than our own responsibility, which we (especially as religious) cannot escape. Commitments and facts must come before forms and ceremonies. This is the authentic message of the prophets, which we recognize as a common source, and the comfort promised by the divine mercy will recall once more the waters of Noah, no longer as a sign of destruction, but as a sign of protections. As the prophet Isaiah says (54:9): “This is like the days of Noah to me: Just as I swore that the waters of Noah would never again go over the earth, so I have sworn that I will not be angry with you.”

di Segni sates that there is no need for Jews to change their current prayer because they have already been censored, but he claims that they were self-censored.

Jewish prayers have already been self-censored, centuries ago,” Di Segni informed the prelate in a communiqué. “What has been brought to our attention once more is a history of polemics which goes back thousands of years, concerning which some clarifications are in order. Anyone can hear for themselves the prayers which Jews recite today, and they can easily be verified, even in translation,” Di Segni emphasized. “The essential fact,” he added, “is that today no reference to Christians exists in our prayers, which, among other things, have been the object of repeated interventions of censoring and self-censoring. The Hebrew texts were changed centuries ago.
full version here

Di Segni thinks that dialogue is important but he does not think that Judaism can change through dialogue. “There has been notable theological progress in Christian theology’s view of Judaism” However, “reciprocity at the theological level does not exist,” the rabbi said. “Among politicians there can be discussions that lead to a solution, not so among theologians.” “Christianity is born from Judaism and, with notable efforts, can introduce elements of Jewish spirituality,” he said. “The contrary is not possible.”

Side Point: Rabbi David Rosen in Haaratz on the poor behavior of Jews toward the Vatican.

Israel’s behavior toward the Vatican over the past 15 years has been “outrageous,” one of the figures behind the 1994 establishment of diplomatic relations between Jerusalem and Vatican City told Haaretz last week. “Any [other] country would have threatened to withdraw its ambassador long ago over Israel’s failure to honor agreements,” Rabbi David Rosen said.

Copyright © 2010 Alan Brill · All Rights Reserved

Walmart, Love and Universal Ethics

Pope Benedict of the Week

David Nirenberg a Jewish professor of (Jewish) history and social thought at the University of Chicago offers a review in the TNR of Benedict’s recent encyclical “Caritas in Veritate: On Integral Human Development in Charity and Truth.” He likes the message of love over market values, but asks: Why does it have to be framed as Catholic and not universal?

Benedict’s teaching differs from that of his predecessors in at least two important ways. The first is evident in the key term in his analysis: “love,” rather than “justice,” “natural law,” or “human reason,” the terms that were favored by some of his predecessors

As Wal-Mart shoppers, for example, we must divide our attention between 1) a self-interest in the lowest possible price for whatever object we desire; and 2) the needs of that object’s producers, of the environment in and from which it was made, and of the moral and fiscal balance of global trade (hence “consumers should be continually educated regarding their daily role, which can be exercised with respect for moral principles without diminishing the intrinsic economic rationality of the act of purchasing”); and 3) an openness to the loving “spirit of the gift.” Benedict is not simply suggesting a moral yardstick for the marketplace. He is claiming that every commercial exchange needs to become a loving act modeled on the gratuitous gift of Jesus Christ.

And only Catholicism, Benedict tells us, can achieve the universal fraternity necessary for authentic community: “Reason, by itself, is capable of grasping the equality between men and of giving stability to their civic coexistence, but it cannot establish fraternity.

The problem is that Benedict is claiming to offer general answers to global questions that affect people of every faith (and sometimes of no faith), while at the same time insisting that the only possible answer to those questions is Catholicism. Such a suggestion might be a plausible prescription for global peace and development in a Catholic world, but the world is not Catholic.

In a de-secularizing age, and with our faith in self-interest shaken by economic crisis, we should want to draw on the wisdom in that ocean of thought. But if those teachings are to contribute to global “unity and peace,” they will have to be taught in a way that seeks to transcend the boundaries of the traditions that produced them. This does not mean, as Benedict fears, that Christianity (or any other religion) must become “more or less interchangeable with a pool of good sentiments, helpful for social cohesion, but of little relevance,” or that “there would no longer be any real place for God in the world.” Values are not a zero-sum game. God’s place in the world is not lost when one religion tries to translate some of its truths into helpful good sentiments for those of other or no faith

Full review

To which Michael Sean Winters replies at NCR and at his blog at America that he likes the perspective of the historian but disagrees with the need for universalism

his article is so refreshing and so frustrating. On the one hand, he understands that the advent of capitalism and its values represented a “reversal of a millennial moral consensus”

If Nirenberg truly believes that Benedict’s vision is narrowed by his insistence on truth to the point of preventing dialogue, why write a review of the encyclical? Nirenberg’s effort disproves his own claim.

Who is correct?

I think A Jewish Call For Social Justice by Shmuly Yanklowitz is closer to David Nirenberg in that he discusses social justice without any claims of truth or higher values. But is Jewish pragmatism enough? Is Winters correct that David Nirenberg, and most Jews, are more utilitarian than principled?

Revelation as Reconciliation

Pope Benedict of the week,

They just published his 1955 thesis on 13th century ramifications of Bonaventure on history. In Ratzinger’s reading the age of the spirit is not heretical and apocalyptic nor spiritualized. The age  is one of a fulfillment of spirit in reconciliation and peace. The thesis was semi-rejected since in the mid twentieth century mystics were seen as outside the mainstream.

The innovation of the thesis is similar to a thesis on Torat Azilut and Tikkune Zohar, which would reject Gershon Scholem and replace it with a fulfillment scheme. In Benedict’s approach, Tikkune  Zohar does not contain the seeds of antinomianism and transvaluation of Rabbinic categories as explained by Scholem, rather a proto-version of Rav Kook’s evolutionary vision of Orot Hakodesh. Such a Jewish application would use Zohar to move discussion of revelation in Judaism away from texts and toward the historical effect on the Jewish people and the Jewish embracing of the world.

Ratzinger dug deep in his research. And he discovered that in Bonaventure, there is a strong connection with the vision of Joachim of Fiore, the Franciscan who had prophesied the imminent advent of a third age after those of the Father and the Son, an age of the Spirit, with a renewed and entirely “spiritual” Church, poor, reconciled with Greeks and Jews, in a world restored to peace.

One of the examiners, professor Michael Schmaus, didn’t like the thesis. But Ratzinger avoided rejection by representing only the second part of his text, which had not received any objections.

If neo-Scholastic theology essentially understood Revelation as the divine transmission of mysteries, which remain inaccessible to the human mind, today Revelation is considered as God’s manifestation of himself in an historical action.


Many Jewish theories of revelation are historic, not scholastic, ranging from Eliezer Berkovits to Avigdor Miller and Jon Levenson. There seems to be something useful here to create a more externally focused view of revelation. Kook and Berkovits connect revelation to Zionism. How about repair, expansion, or completion?

The end of weak thought?

Recently, several people have noted the similarities between the message of Chief Rabbi Sacks and Pope Benedict, both offering a critique of materialism and the lack of truth in modern life.

In the 50’s-70’s, people looked for meaning, in the 80’s until today people looked for a moral order – either conservative or progressive- but without a sense of universal truth.  Is there a return to reason in religion? Are we entering a new era of truth?

Cardinal Odilo Pedro Scherer, archbishop of São Paulo in Brazil, suggested that the great contrast between Ratzinger and Benedict has nothing to do with politics, but with his legacy and impact. Ironically, Scherer suggested, this consummate theologian may well make his most important contributions as pope not in theology, but rather in philosophy and even cultural criticism.

Surveying Benedict’s efforts so far, Scherer identified three key themes: the relationship between faith and reason; natural law; and the centrality of the human person. All three, Scherer said, offer a challenge to what Italians call the pensiero debole, or “weak thought,” of the modern world, meaning a lack of confidence in the ability of the human mind to ever find objective truth.

“This may seem a little out of place, because logically you’d expect a pope to talk about the importance of faith,” Scherer said. “That obviously is also important to Benedict XVI. Yet from the beginning, the pope also has been calling attention to human reason, the human capacity to reach the truth.”

In that sense, Scherer suggested, the real surprise of the papacy so far is that Ratzinger the theologian has emerged as Benedict the philosopher.