Saturday, 12 December 2015

Catholics and Jews: what the pontifical commission actually said .....

The nature of the recently published document of the Vatican's Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews "The Gift and the Calling of God are irrevocable" is that of a theological reflection that indicates a certain state of play in the dialogue between the Catholic Church and the Jewish community and also represents a contribution to such dialogue. It is, as you will see below, quite nuanced. The headlines that it attracted - "Vatican rejects "institutional mission work directed at the Jews", and its subordinate headline "New statement says God will save Jewish people even if they do not explicitly believe in Christ" or, at the BBC news website "Catholics should not try to convert Jews, Vatican says" - are actually quite inaccurate to the nuance of the text.

It is worth remembering before reading the extracts below that, in speaking of its mission of evangelisation (cf, for example Pope Paul VI's Evangelii Nuntiandi) , the Catholic Church recognises different stages or "moments" in that mission. Among these are presence in charity and the presence of witness of life, in addition to what are more readily understood stages of explicit primary proclamation followed by systematic catechesis and formation in the Catholic community. If we read the extracts below we should notice that, if the new document offers a discouragement of explicit proclamation directed at the Jews, it nevertheless clearly affirms the part to be played by witness of Catholics to their faith in Christ as part of Jewish-Christian dialogue. It is also worth noting how, because of the particular relation of the Chosen People of the Jewish religion to the Christian Church, the commission suggests that there is a distinctive character to the mission of Catholics towards Jews when compared to that of Catholics towards other, non-Jewish religions. The document does not deny that Catholics have a mission of evangelisation towards the Jewish people; it gives to that mission an appropriate form and context.

I have added the emphasis in the extracts below to draw attention to the nuancing of the original texts that has been missed by the headlines.
37. Another focus for Catholics must continue to be the highly complex theological question of how Christian belief in the universal salvific significance of Jesus Christ can be combined in a coherent way with the equally clear statement of faith in the never-revoked covenant of God with Israel. It is the belief of the Church that Christ is the Saviour for all. There cannot be two ways of salvation, therefore, since Christ is also the Redeemer of the Jews in addition to the Gentiles. Here we confront the mystery of God’s work, which is not a matter of missionary efforts to convert Jews, but rather the expectation that the Lord will bring about the hour when we will all be united,"when all peoples will call on God with one voice and ‘serve him shoulder to shoulder’" (Nostra Aetate n.4). .....
40. It is easy to understand that the so–called ‘mission to the Jews’ is a very delicate and sensitive matter for Jews because, in their eyes, it involves the very existence of the Jewish people. This question also proves to be awkward for Christians, because for them the universal salvific significance of Jesus Christ and consequently the universal mission of the Church are of fundamental importance. The Church is therefore obliged to view evangelisation to Jews, who believe in the one God, in a different manner from that to people of other religions and world views. In concrete terms this means that the Catholic Church neither conducts nor supports any specific institutional mission work directed towards Jews. While there is a principled rejection of an institutional Jewish mission, Christians are nonetheless called to bear witness to their faith in Jesus Christ also to Jews, although they should do so in a humble and sensitive manner, acknowledging that Jews are bearers of God’s Word, and particularly in view of the great tragedy of the Shoah.
41. The concept of mission must be presented correctly in dialogue between Jews and Christians. Christian mission has its origin in the sending of Jesus by the Father. He gives his disciples a share in this call in relation to God’s people of Israel (cf. Mt 10:6) and then as the risen Lord with regard to all nations (cf. Mt 28:19). Thus the people of God attains a new dimension through Jesus, who calls his Church from both Jews and Gentiles (cf. Eph 2:11-22) on the basis of faith in Christ and by means of baptism, through which there is incorporation into his Body which is the Church ("Lumen gentium", 14).

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