By Leon Suprenant | April 16, 2008
Pope Benedict’s amazing itinerary this week includes a meeting tomorrow in Washington with 50 Jewish leaders as well as a visit to Park East Synagogue in New York on Friday.
Certainly these opportunities for dialogue are important for the Church’s cordial yet delicate relationship with Judaism, especially in light of the recent controversy concerning the revision of the Good Friday prayer for the Jewish people.
Here too we see played out before our eyes the tension the Catholic Church deals with when addressing any religious body that is not in full communion with her. On the one hand, we affirm that all salvation comes through Jesus Christ, the one Savior of the world, who has entrusted the fullness of the means of salvation to the Church He founded. One cannot knowingly reject Christ and His Church and be saved.
At the same time, the Church affirms all that is good and true and beautiful in other religions, and seeks to build on these things in our common quest for a just, peaceful world in this life as well as eternal beatitude in the next. While salvation comes through the Church, God desires all men to be saved (1 Tim. 2:4), and the Church recognizes the possibility of salvation of non-Catholics and even non-Christians who are faithful to the lights they have been given.
So, there’s always something of a tension between evangelization and ecumenism/interreligious dialogue. Stated differently, there is a natural tension between bluntly affirming the stark reality that Jews (and all people) need Christ and His Church, and the approach of the Second Vatican Council, which strives whenever possible to affirm elements of truth–and the possibility of salvation–wherever they can be found.
Jews are very sensitive to evangelization efforts, especially in light of coercive, anti-Semitic actions that sometimes took place in past centuries. At the same time, the Church has to be true to her mission. She can never compromise her teaching in order to make it more palatable to others. She has to live the tension.
Back in 1991, the Pontifical Council for Inter-religious Dialogue issued a document entitled Dialogue and Proclamation, which affirms that the proclamation of the good news of Jesus Christ ”is the foundation, center, and summit of evangelization.” This proclamation is a positive invitation that goes out to all people, not a harsh proselytism that runs roughshod over the religious freedom of non-believers.
In the context of the Jewish faith, there’s continuing discussion regarding the ongoing validity of the Old Covenant for Jews, in light of its fulfillment by Christ in the New, which of course adherents of Judaism don’t accept. The “elements of truth” that the Jews have are ineffectual without their fulfillment in Christ. So holding out hope for the salvation of Jews could suggest that the Old Covenant in effect is their means of salvation. Yet, such a proposition is incompatible with Christian faith. Ah, the tension.
Question: Do you understand anything on page 131 of the U.S. Catechism for Adults to mean that the Jewish people (or any group) have their own, independent saving path to God, outside of Jesus Christ?
Bishop Rhoades: “I do not interpret anything on page 131 of the U.S. Catechism for Adults to mean that the Jewish people (or any group) have their own independent saving path to God, outside of Jesus Christ. I can see how the one statement that “the covenant that God made with the Jewish people through Moses remains eternally valid for them” might be misunderstood. I would interpret it to mean that the Jewish people retain a special relationship to God because of the Old Covenant, but I would not interpret it to mean that the Jewish people can be saved through the Old Covenant apart from Christ.”
Bishop Rhoades gives the proper, orthodox interpretation of the Church’s perennial teaching on this topic. The Mosaic Covenant has been completed, crowned, and fulfilled through Jesus Christ. That is the objective reality, the fullness of revealed truth.
Pope Benedict XVI, in a non-magisterial book written prior to his becoming the Successor of St. Peter, put it this way, “With regard to the issue of the nature of the covenant, it is important to note that the Last Supper sees itself as making a covenant: it is the prolongation of the Sinai covenant, which is not abrogated, but renewed” (Many Religions, One Covenant, p. 62). He also expressed that “the Sinai covenant is indeed superseded. But once what was provisional in it has been swept away, we see what is truly definitive in it. So the expectation of the New Covenant . . . does not conflict with the Sinai covenant; rather, it fulfills the dynamic expectation found in that very covenant” (ibid., 70).
The interplay of the Old and New Testaments is also well summarized in paragraphs 15-16 of Vatican II’s Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation.
The point that is often missed today is that other churches or religions are not separate “means of salvation,” but rather to the extent people are faithful to the truth they have been given, it is possible for them to be saved, through Christ. So, a devout Jew who hasn’t knowingly rejected Christ–a criterion that only God can judge–could theoretically be saved because of his fidelity to the Old Covenant, though it wouldn’t be because the Old Covenant itself is a viable means of salvation apart from Christ.
God bless the Holy Father’s interactions with Jewish leaders this week, as he strives to speak the truth in charity, to the glory of God the Father.