Wednesday, April 29, 2009

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

After the Introduction by Dr Thomas Pink (Part I - Part II) we now come to the statement by Bishop Gerhard Ludwig Müller of Regensburg himself (you can find the German original at the site of the German Bishops' Conference here).

The Church's Confession of Christ in Jewish-Christian Dialogue

By Bishop Dr Gerhard Ludwig Müller

Translated by Dr Thomas Pink

The Chairman of the Committee for Ecumenism of the German Bishops' Conference, Bishop Dr Gerhard Ludwig Müller, has written a statement regarding the Declaration of the 'Jews and Christians' dialogue circle of the Central Committee of German Catholics (ZdK) "No to Mission to the Jews - Yes to dialogue between Jews and Gentiles".

The life and mission of the Church can only be understood on the basis of her confession of Jesus the Christ: 'because, if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all and bestows his riches upon all who call upon him.' Romans 10, 9-12

The Church's confession of Christ has its source in the living encounter of the disciples with the person of Jesus. The primitive Church recognized in him the Word which is God, and that has taken flesh for the sake of our salvation. Through his preaching, teaching and saving works and finally through his death on the cross, his resurrection from the dead and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit has communicated himself to all men as truth and life in a way that cannot be surpassed by any new revelation and that is final (eschatologically).

'The Christian dispensation, therefore, as the new and definitive covenant, will never pass away' (Vatican II Dei Verbum §4). With this understanding the Second Vatican Council summarises, in the Dogmatic Constitution on divine revelation, employing the highest level of magisterial authority, the fullness of the Church's confession of Christ both in its origin in Scripture and in its unfolding in faith in the greatness of Tradition.

Jesus is the Christ

The Church believes therefore in the person of Jesus Christ. She does not build on an historical reconstruction of some image of Jesus abstracted from biblical sources according, for example, to the preconceptions of a liberal world picture that is merely culturally Christian. Hence the Old Testament cannot be read as witnessing the real giving of a covenant by God in contrast to the New Testament which is supposed to use merely literary stylistic devices to interpret a Jewish teacher of the Torah merely as if he were Son of God or universal redeemer, without Jesus being really and truly the incarnate Word of God. (See ZdK Declaration, p9)

Holy Scripture: the Word of God in human language

As far as the relation to each other of the Jewish and Christian faith-communities is concerned, there is a common frame of reference - a faith-hermeneutic which is profoundly theological, and which is qualitatively removed from comparisons made from an historical or a literary point of view. Believing Jews and Christians both presuppose that God can reveal himself in history and that in fact he has revealed himself as creator of all men and as saviour and redeemer of his chosen people.

The Holy Scriptures of Israel and of the Church witness and contain the Word of God expressed in human language. The Jewish Bible and the Christian Bible (in the Old and New Testaments) are therefore not purely human interpretations which, on the model of liberal theories of projection, assume for themselves 'God' as fictional subject of some salvation-historical revelation in word and deed (and so introduce ‘God’ only 'as if' he were a 'person').

What differentiates the confession of Jews and Christians is not the affirmation of a real action on the part of God in the covenant for Israel and a merely human interpretation of the figure of Jesus in the New Testament writings, but the question whether Jesus really is the promised Messiah, and whether the incarnation, the atoning death on the cross and the resurrection from the dead really have been effected by the same covenantal God, the God and Father of Jesus Christ, .

The Self-Revelation of the Triune God

In the text of the 'Jews and Christians' dialogue circle of the ZdK, by contrast, the dividing line between Jews and Christians is placed merely in the 'idea' of the Trinity and of the incarnation. But for Catholics and for all Christians who recognize the creed of Nicaea-Constantinople, the mystery of the Trinity is not some metaphor of the closeness and love of God applied to God from without, but the revelation of the innermost being of God which he himself declares to us men in the true historical incarnation of the Son of God and in the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, and within which being we are included.

Salvation is becoming filled with the love of God - now and forever through eternity. We then can no longer speak of the universal salvific will of God apart from his being made present, both historically and eschatologically, in Jesus Christ, the sole mediator between God and man.

God's covenant - the offer of salvation

The primacy of grace and of faith renders completely unintelligible any standpoint that 'opens up the ethical action of general humanity' as 'a way to God lying beyond all differences of belief' (ZdK Declaration p5). There is no way round the central Christian faith-conviction of God’s real action of grace in the death of Christ for the redemption of all men. 'Since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, they are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus... Or is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles also? Yes, of Gentiles also, since God is one; and he will justify the circumcised on the ground of their faith and the uncircumcised through their faith.' Romans 3, 23-30

The attainment of eschatological salvation according to the gospel of St Matthew, the declaration of the dialogue circle suggests, is supposed not to be tied to the person of Jesus, but to be dependent 'solely' on actions involving love of neighbour. So Jesus can stand for the Jews as an interpreter of the Torah while for the Gentiles he serves to motivate their recognition of the God of Israel. (ZdK Declaration pp18f)

There is no mention that the mystery of and confession of the Messiah is central to all the gospels. Mary, who has conceived Jesus through the working of the Holy Spirit, is commanded to give her son the name of Jesus (Matthew 8, 29; John 11, 27) 'because he will redeem his people from their sins' (Matthew 1, 27). Jesus is designated prophetically as the 'shepherd of my people Israel' (Matthew 2, 6). To restrict the redemptive action of Jesus Christ to the Gentiles that live outside the people of God that is Israel - this would be to turn the entire witness of the Bible on its head.

Rather, it is congruent with the sovereignty and uniqueness of God that HE approaches us by the path of election, vocation, covenantal grace, redemption, justification and - as Christians confess - incarnation. Men then can follow the way of God to their salvation if they show him the 'obedience of faith' (Dei Verbum §5), which shows itself in love of God and neighbour in fulfillment of the will of God in his commandments.

Previous parts of the series:

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

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

Subsequent parts of the series:

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

More recent articles:

For more articles, see the NLM archives: