Salvation for the Jews

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.

We recently posed a question to Bishop Kevin Rhoades of Harrisburg regarding an ambiguous statement on this very point in the new U.S. Catechism for Adults. Here’s the question and his response:

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.

13 responses

  1. I haven’t heard that. This is still on the Pope’s official itinerary this morning:

    6:30 p.m. – Interreligious Gathering at the Pope John Paul II Cultural Center
    The Pope will meet with representatives of other religions on the theme “Peace Our Hope.” Construction on the Pope John Paul II Cultural Center began in 1997 on 12 acres adjacent to the Catholic University of America. Since its dedication in 2000, the Center has been the site of many interreligious discussions and events.

    6:30 p.m. – The Pope will enter through the front door of the Center. Bishop Richard J. Sklba, chairman, USCCB Committee on Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs will welcome the Pope along with an audience of some 220 individuals representing five religions: Buddhism, Hindu, Islam, Jainism and Judaism. Pope Benedict XVI will give an address. The Holy Father will then be presented with symbols of peace by five young people:

    Judaism: Menorah, presented by David J. Michaels, director for intercommunal affairs, Center for Human Rights and Public Policy at B’nai B’rith International.

    Islam: Qur’an, presented by Saman Hussain, coordinator, Unity Walk 2007.

    Jainism: Metallic cube, presented by Aditya Vora, a Jain young adult studying at Haverford College in Pennsylvania.

    Buddhism: Bell, presented by Masako Fukata, a youth leader of Rissho Kosei-kai, a socially engaged Buddhist organization headquartered in Tokyo.

    Hinduism: Sculpture of syllable Om by Dr. Ravi Gupta, assistant professor of religion, Centre College, Danville, Ky.

    A greeting of interreligious leaders will be followed by a song: “Peace Prayer”, attributed to Saint Francis of Assisi, sung by a schola cantorum.

  2. Thanks, Leon. This is an important clarification, as many, myself included, have been confounded by the topic, unclear as to what way to approach our older brothers in faith.

    God bless.

  3. Absolutely, Peter. And by the way, the Pope discussed this issue on the plane en route to U.S.:

    “My trip has basically two objectives. The first is a visit to the church in America, in the United States, and naturally also the entire country. There’s a particular motive, which is that 200 years ago the Archdiocese of Baltimore was elevated as a metropolitan archdiocese, and at the same moment two or three other dioceses were created … Philadelphia, Boston, Louisville. It’s a great jubilee for the church in the United States. It’s a moment of reflection on the past, but also on the future, on how to respond to the great challenges of our time that will present themselves in the future.

    “Naturally, the inter-religious and ecumenical encounters are an important part of this trip, as is the encounter in the synagogue with our Jewish friends on the vigil of their Passover festival. That’s the religious and pastoral aspect … the church in the United States in this moment of our history, and the encounter with all the others in this common humanity which leads to a common sense of responsibility.”

  4. I would also add that non-Catholic Jews still retain a special relationship with God (even if non-salvific).

    “They are Israelites; theirs the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises, theirs the patriarchs and from them, according to the flesh, is the Messiah.” (Rom 9:4)

    “In respect to the gospel, they are enemies on your account; but in respect to election, they are beloved because of the patriarchs. For the gifts and the call of God are irrevocable.” (Rom 11:28-29)

    Pope Benedict XVI wrote about this when he was head of the CDF as well. I’ve occasionally encountered those who object to this observation (regarding God’s continuing concern for Jews as a people), because they take it to violate the principle that all are the same before God in Christ. (Gal 3:28).

    But there is no violation. St. Paul describes the Jews as beloved not because of anything inherently special about them but because of their lineage. They are beloved “for the sake of the patriarchs” (Rom 11:28 ). They are the descendants of the patriarchs (Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, David) who were so beloved of God. They have played a unique role, much like the unique roles one finds in any family.

    A first-born is special. No other child can be first-born. Does that mean he is loved more than the others? No. But he is special, unique. And what of a husband and a wife? Neither is more important. Yet, each has a unique role to play.

    The Jews were God’s earthly means of bringing salvation to the world, including the gift of Jesus Christ, Mother Mary and 12 Jewish men we call apostles. They are “fleshly Israel”, the Church is spiritual Israel. This is the language of the Church. St. Paul tells us that even their hardening was a gift to the world, for it resulted in the Gospel being brought to the gentiles.

    Let’s hope that we don’t make the mistake of the elder brother in the story of the prodigal son. There is no reason for envy or jealousy. We have much to thank our “elder brothers” for. And when Jews return most fully to God through Christ and His Church, they have much to thank their gentile brothers for as well.

    Certainly, sometimes particular elder brothers can be, well, less than wonderful (as can younger brothers).

    I find it easier to appreciate some of my brothers more than others. And I suspect they would echo that sentiment.

    Yet, on the occasions when things have become especially strained between me and any of my brothers, it is a cause for special rejoicing when reconciliation is reached. What a joy to recover what has been lost.

  5. QUOTE:Bishop Rhoades: “…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.END QUOTE

    With all due respect to Bishop Rhoades, one wonders why he would use this statement as a reason to deny imprimatur to Robert Sungenis’ book “The Apocalypse of St. John” if it is easily misunderstood. Apparently even Leon agrees at this point that it needs to be corrected. There is nothing else on the quoted page (pg. 131) that could be related to Jewish questions and the imprimatur.

  6. Mark,
    With all due respect, Bishop Rhoades doesn’t have to defend himself. He has said and done nothing that would justify what Sungenis has done to him. Sungenis has engaged in dishonesty and obfuscation in order to justify his defamation and defiance of Bishop Rhoades.

    And Bishop Rhoades did not single this one sentence out as a reason to deny Sungenis an imprimatur. This has been Sungenis’ false assertion. Bishop Rhoades referred to the entire SECTION of the USCCA that contains SIX sentences not merely this one sentence.
    The reason I asked His Excellency a question about this one section was simply to allow him to clarify whether he found even this one sentence to convey what Sungenis simply assumed he must. And clearly, Bishop Rhoades does not interpret
    it the way Sungenis does. Whether Sungenis agrees with Bishop Rhoades’ perfectly orthodox understanding of this one sentence is irrelevant to the issue at hand (additionally, there are other factors that one should consider when reviewing
    Bishop Rhoades’ measured statement on this particular issue, please read:

    The point is, this one sentence (and the most problematic interpretation of it) is manifestly NOT the reason Bishop Rhoades denied Sungenis an imprimatur, and Bishop Rhoades does NOT subscribe to the dual covenant error. Therefore, Sungenis’ already illegitimate reason for publicly defying Bishop Rhoades does not exist at all. Furthermore, he has defamed a good bishop on multiple occasions now.

    And I disagree that there is nothing else in this section of the USCCA that would be relevant to an imprimatur evaluation. CASB 2 is filled with Sungenis’ prejudice against Jews, even if it is largely more subtle than his usual fare, and it has even infected his theology. It is not a matter of a single statement, but an entire trajectory that is propagandistic.

    The fact that Sungenis also managed to insert an entire 16 pages on Romans 11 (and Sungenis’ always negative, often less than honest interpretation of the passage, the related patristics, etc) into a commentary on the Apocalypse is also indicative of the problem.

    (Please understand, Jacob Michael did not intend the article above to be exhaustive, either. And we do not speak for Bishop Rhoades. There may well be other issues that we did not uncover as the CASB 2 was not reviewed exhaustively)

    (some of what is documented directly above appears in CASB 2)

    I would also remind you that Sungenis has indicated that he sent CASB 2 to another bishop, roughly a year ago now. And yet, he has not been granted an imprimatur still. As such, CASB 2 has been rejected by TWO bishops at this point in time. And I have been informed that CASB 3 appears to be lacking an imprimatur as well, and that one was never submitted to Bishop Rhoades according to Sungenis. It was submitted to another bishop.

    I believe it is a serious mistake to accept Sungenis’ characterization of events with Bishop Rhoades at all. Sungenis has been extremely SELECTIVE in what he has divulged and even what he has divulged does not reflect well on his honesty in
    this situation:

    Please read the following section and article to get a better understanding of the situation in regard to page 131 of the USCCA:

    Additionally, Sungenis has been less than forthright and honest in regard to the conversation he had with Fr. King at their July 2007 meeting:

  7. Michael:

    I never said Bishop Rhoades has to defend himself. He is a bishop after all.

    The material in Sungenis book dealing with the Jews, dealt mainly with the issue of supersession, including the 16 page section on Romans you mention. Keep in mind, Bob was researching his Roman’s book at the time of writing the book on the Apocalypse, and apparenly he felt the section fit in at least tangentially.

    Also, the letter from Rhoades did single out the issue of EENS, which directly ties to the issue on page 131 of the USCCA. It also specifically mentioned JPII’s Mainz speech (i.e., “the covenant never revoked” [actually the Abrahamic per JPII in Sydney 1982, but intepreted by some as the Mosaic, I am not saying bishop Rhoades does. I do not know.]).

    Also, it ties in directly with Robert’s letter to the CDF re: the USCCA.

    The only thing Rhoades adderssed re; the USCCA in his response was the one sentence; though I agree there are other sentences. There are basically four points re: the Jews on pages 130-131:

    1. The Jews remain dear to God; Sungenis does not deny this.
    2. God made Irael a great nation: Sungenis does not disagree with this.
    3. The Mosaic covennat is unrevoked; without getting into what this actually meant, Sungenis did point out what he thtought it meant, and sent a letter to the CDF, CCing the USCCB.
    4. We should not be attack the Jews: quoting directly Nostra Aetate

    Only points 3 or 4 are likely. And given all the other circumstances, I will continue to believe it was mainly point 2 (bishop Rhoades has not denied that explicitly to my knowledge. Only you are claiming otherwise). Bishop Rhoades already quoted Nostra Aetate seperately, so there was no reason to do so through a quote in the USCCA, leaving basically point 3 (the Mosaic covenant is unrevoked).

  8. I didn’t realize that I was writing to Mark Wyatt, Sungenis’ associate and friend who has spent a great deal of time at various forums over the past couple of years as a personal apologist. Mark, it’s probably unintentional, but you’re still reacting as though it’s “all about Bob.” Forgive me, but after everything that has transpired in regard to Sungenis’ dishonesty, calumny and your own integral part in seriously misleading people about the status of Sungenis’ imprimatur on this very same Catholic Apologetics Study Bible (and more), it is unacceptable for you to now attempt to call into question anything at all about Bishop Rhoades, especially while simultaneously spinning what you originally wrote here and spinning what Sungenis has done and written as well:

    I find no evidence anywhere that it matters to you if Sungenis defames a successor to the Apostles by baselessly accusing him of holding to a heretical doctrine, of having greater allegiances to Jewish causes than the Catholic faith, of trying to propagate pro-Jewish doctrinal error to his “unsuspecting” flock…all without a shred of actual evidence. Who cares about the multiple offenses he has committed against many others, we should all just move along? That’s not how Christian ethics work.

    Should you decide to forthrightly and publicly acknowledge the ugliness of what Sungenis has done and what he continues to do and acknowledge your own unfortunate part in aiding him, you will regain some credibility and moral standing from which to continue to address these matters. In the meantime, you might ask Sungenis to publish ALL of the correspondence from Bishop Rhoades to date– in its entirety – rather than playing this deplorable game of self-serving, selective leaking. And you might take notice of his newest article posted at BTF, dredging up some of the same old anti-Semites again (Dilling, Hoffman, Prainatis, Piper). Recall, this is after yet another “promise” that he’s abandoned anything aside from theological issues related to Jews at BTF.

    Of course, then there are these to consider as well:,, and

    Robert Sungenis: “any future dealings that I have with the Jews, whether on our website or in published articles, will only concern the theological side of things. As you can see by the Jewish material presently on our website, every article is about theological matters, and that will always be the policy of our apostolate from here on out… I will not be expressing those (Jewish, non-theological) opinions in my speeches, articles, website or any other public venue. Again, I will only be expressing my thoughts in public that deal with the theological dimensions, as our apostolate has done for the past several months. ” (January 25, 2008)

    Plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose:

    And, would this (below) be an example of Sungenis agreeing that the Jews are still dearly loved by God?

    Robert Sungenis: “The whole tenor of the New Testament is that God is finally rejecting the Jews (except for a remnant)…God is giving up on the Jews. In the language of John 6:44, God is no longer going to draw them to Jesus.
 In fact, God will become active in keeping them in unbelief by blinding
them to the truth (Romans 11:8). That is the kind of God we have; a
very dynamic God…and the Jews will die in their unbelief.”

    To change gears, however, I do appreciate your blog posting about Guatemalan orphans. That topic is near and dear to my heart (we recently adopted two older children from Guatemala). There are so many children in need of help.

  9. Dear Leon,
    Praised be Jesus and Our Lady.
    I keep reading so much in defense of Bishop Rhoades and in criticism of Robert Sungenis.

    I have asked Michael Forrest two questions, he replied he is not a spokesman for Bishop Rhoades.He can only believe what Bishop Rhoades is saying in the questions he has answered and which is placed on the CUF blog.

    Bishop Rhoades will personally not answer my questions, nor his Vicar General nor the Deacon in his diocese who teaches Adult Faith nor the lady incharge of religious education.None of the priests respond.Nor the few sisters listed on their website.

    The two questions are
    1) Does the Catholic Church teach that Judaism and other religions are not paths to salvation (to go to Heaven and avoid Hell)? Yes or No.
    2) Does the Catholic Church teach that Catholic Faith and the Baptism of water are needed for all people, in general, barring the exceptions, for salvation? Yes or No.
    Jim Likoudis,President,CUF has answered the first question with a YES.
    His answer to the second question is also YES, I assume in good faith though there is some ambiguity.
    So to rephrase the question: Is Bishop Kevin Rhoades saying that Jews in general, barring the exceptions,invincible ignorance etc, need Catholic Faith and Baptism for salvation?

    I should mention that Jim Likoudis was also honest to admit that Fr.Leonard Feeney was NOT excommunicated for heresy.

    I repeat no one is answering this question which is linked to Bishop Rhoades’ interview which it is claimed is clear for all to read.

  10. Lionel, as you have admitted elsewhere, Bishop Rhoades provided orthodox responses to the questions that were posted to him in the context of the unfortunate Bob Sungenis controversy. Your questions or issues are slightly different, and no one in that diocese wants to engage you in this matter. With all due respect, so what? Bishop Rhoades is under no obligation to submit to your personal (and not particularly clear or helpful) litmus test for orthodoxy, especially since he hasn’t said or done anything that should raise a legitimate concern in that regard.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *