Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Confessing the Messiah: The Church's Confession of Christ in Jewish-Christian Dialogue - Introduction Pt. II

We continue Dr Thomas Pink's Introduction to the statement of Bishop Gerhard Ludwig Müller regarding Jewish salvation and the liceity of the extraordinary form Good Friday prayer for Jewish conversion (see part I here.)

Confessing the Messiah

By Dr Thomas Pink

One question still remains. Has not the post-Conciliar magisterium renounced a 'Mission to the Jews' understood precisely as a targeted programme of conversion aimed at securing the final conversion of all Jews to Christianity? Such a renunciation would make perfect sense in terms of a dual covenant theology. And indeed Cardinal Kasper himself in a widely read article in Osservatore Romano of April 10, 2008 sought to explain the extraordinary form prayer for Jewish conversion in terms that do eschew a 'Mission to the Jews' specifically so understood. The final conversion of the Jews, he has observed, is an eschatological event associated by St Paul in Romans Chapter 11 with the coming again of Christ from Zion. It is not therefore something which the Church should be taking active steps to bring about by itself in the here and now.

But this gloss has not satisfied liberal critics. And nor should it. For in the very same article Cardinal Kasper still endorses St Paul's habit of preaching first in the synagogues to gain converts to Christianity - and only then, if no conversions occur, moving on to evangelize the Gentiles:

Naturally, Christians must, where it is opportune, give to their older brothers and sisters in the faith of Abraham (John Paul II) a witness of their own faith and of the richness and beauty of their faith in Christ. Paul did this as well. During his missionary journeys, Paul always went first to the synagogue, and only when he did not find faith there did he go to the pagans (Acts of the Apostles, 13:5,14ff., 42-52; 14:1-6 and others; Romans 1:16 is fundamental).

A 'Mission to the Jews' understood as a strategy to end the very existence of Judaism as a religion rejecting of Christ - that would be to address an eschatological matter properly in the hands of God alone. But St Paul's general evangelisation of Jews along with and even before Gentiles, a strategy aiming at individual conversions - Kasper in fact endorses that. St Paul's missionary strategy would certainly have no place in a dual covenant theology.

So the liberals have remained unmollified and the protest and outcry has continued, with the strongest objections to the prayer for Jewish conversion coming from liberal theologians in the United States and Germany. And that reminds us that the real explanation for these objections may not lie in some compelling theological principle, but rather in a crisis of Christian guilt following the Shoah - a guilt that given the ethnic politics of the US and the history of Germany, is likely to be particularly deeply felt by Christians in those two countries. But such feelings of guilt, however warranted and understandable in themselves, do not constitute any theological argument sufficient to compel revision of fundamental Catholic teaching about Christ.

Indeed how could there be a theological principle compelling in terms of orthodox Catholicism for viewing Christ's and the Christian mission as being specifically to the Gentiles and not to the Jews as well? How can Christ's redeeming work, and then human acknowledgement of this work through faith and participation in it through baptism all be less necessary for Jews than Gentiles? For Christ's sacrifice is required to undo the sin of Adam, the father of us all. The alienation from God that is involved in original sin, and that only Christ can repair and end, is not an exclusively Gentile predicament. At the same time, from the prayers and thanks of Mary, Simeon and Zechariah onwards, the New Testament very consistently presents Christ's universal redemptive work in terms of his fulfilment of specifically Jewish hopes for a Messiah to save Israel.

It is not surprising then that liberal opposition to the extraordinary form prayer for Jewish conversion should extend to denial that Christ's work really is to redeem humanity from the sin of Adam. And the recent March 2009 Declaration 'No to a Mission to the Jews - Yes to Jewish-Christian dialogue' in denunciation of this prayer of the liberal Central Committee of German Catholics (ZdK) makes just this move. Here is a key claim made on the first page:

"Christians today maintain along with Jews that the ethical action of general humanity opens up a way to God that goes beyond all differences of belief."

Far from salvation being through faith in Christ and baptism, what saves us is nothing more than praiseworthy human moral action. Christ's role is no more than to call us to follow a moral code - a moral code that had already been sufficiently presented to Israel in the teachings of the Old Testament. So the Jews have no need specifically to follow Christ. But nor, of course, in a sense do we - provided that we all do what is right. Christ is just a moral teacher, albeit perhaps one who for Christians is supremely representative of and communicative of the divine goodness. So while moral action is demanded of all, attention specifically to Christ is just another faith-option - and one which, given the history of Christian ill-treatment and persecution of the Jews, it would be unwarranted and oppressive, as well as strictly unnecessary, even to recommend to the Jewish people. The idea that all humans are burdened by original sin, and that faith and baptism in Christ is what releases all of us, Jew and Gentile alike, from this burden - this is just dismissed by the Declaration as an outmoded pre-Conciliar theology (see ZdK Declaration pp7-8). At the heart of objections to the extraordinary form of the Roman rite and its prayer for Jewish conversion lies then the Pelagianism so characteristic of modern liberal Protestantism - a Pelagianism that, it is now very clear, has entered deeply into the belief of important parts of the German Catholic theological establishment.

It is of vital importance to the future of the Catholic Church in Germany that this ZdK Declaration of liberal protest against the liturgical policies of Pope Benedict XVI has not been met with by silence from the German bishops. Indeed it matters to the universal Church that the issue has been addressed by the formal magisterium of a bishop with both responsibility for ecumenical dialogue and a role in the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith - and in a local context where some might have expected more reticence or evasion. As Chairman of its Committee for Ecumenism, on April 15th 2009 Bishop Gerhard Ludwig Mueller of Regensburg put out a strong official statement on behalf of the whole German Bishops' Conference defending both Catholic orthodoxy regarding Jewish salvation and the licitness of the extraordinary form Good Friday prayer for Jewish conversion. In this statement the German bishops defend the following positions:

- that Jesus is the Jewish Messiah and that his role as such is one with his role as universal saviour of mankind.

- that all are saved in the same way from sin by the one sacrifice of Christ.

- that participation in that saving work through faith and baptism is no less necessary for Jews than for Gentiles.

- that the Church of the New Covenant is indeed to be, as Lumen Gentium teaches, the new People of God made up of Jews and Gentiles alike.

- that Christian dialogue with Jews in no way excludes a Christian mission to evangelize all peoples, Jews along with Gentiles, and that Christian mission ought not to be discredited by association of it with past Christian oppression of the Jews, an oppression that was opposed to Christian faith and witness properly understood.

- that the Declaration of the ZdK forswearing any kind of mission to the Jews has no doctrinal standing whatsoever, and indeed lacks any coherent or plausible grasp of its subject. The Declaration's suggestions of a supposed discontinuity between pre- and post-Conciliar Catholic teaching on Jewish salvation, or of a similar supposed discontinuity between the teaching of Vatican II and John Paul II and that of Benedict XVI, are completely misguided.

For those of us who value the traditional liturgy of the Roman rite, there are two lessons to be drawn. First, that Summorum Pontificum has clearly been of vital importance in nerving even those parts of the world episcopate less than fully sympathetic towards the 1962 Missal to reassert the continuity of orthodox Catholic teaching on human salvation - a teaching that the traditional liturgy presents without ambiguity, and indeed with unsurpassed beauty and clarity. Secondly that behind opposition to the Good Friday prayer for Jewish conversion lies an even more profound source of opposition to the traditional liturgy as a whole - which is a theological Pelagianism that clearly finds the deeply Augustinian orthodoxy of the traditional Roman rite unbearable. But is not such a Pelagianism just the enemy of Christianity itself? Much that extends far beyond the liturgy itself is at stake in Pope Benedict's liturgical programme. The Holy Father, and the bishops who support him, deserve our prayers.

Dr Thomas Pink is Professor of Philosophy at King's College London, who is working on (amongst other things) conceptions of religious liberty, religious coercion and relations between religions held by Catholics from the Counter-Reformation onwards, and who is preparing an edition of Francisco Suarez's moral and political writings.

Previous parts of the series:

Confessing the Messiah: The Church's Confession of Christ in Jewish-Christian Dialogue - Introduction Pt. I

Subsequent parts of the series:

Confessing the Messiah: The Church's Confession of Christ in Jewish-Christian Dialogue - Bishop Müller's Statement Pt. I

Confessing the Messiah: The Church's Confession of Christ in Jewish-Christian Dialogue - Bishop Müller's Statement Pt. II

Confessing the Messiah: The Church's Confession of Christ in Jewish-Christian Dialogue - Bishop Müller's Statement Pt. III

Confessing the Messiah: The Church's Confession of Christ in Jewish-Christian Dialogue - Bishop Müller's Statement Pt. IV

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