Monday, April 27, 2009

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

No doubt most readers are aware of the controversy which arose after the reformulation of the Good Friday intercession for the Jews in the usus antiquior by Pope Benedict XVI in 2008 and the very important questions raised in this context. While preeminently theological in nature, these are, as so often, deeply related to the liturgy, as here again applies the famous axiom lex orandi lex credendi. The NLM is therefore very happy to present to you an English translation of a recent and very important statement which Bishop Gerhard Ludwig Mueller of Regensburg put out 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. The translation was done by Dr Thomas Pink (with some little help and advice by myself), who has also written an excellent introduction to the document for the NLM. I will be posting this in several parts, and begin today with the first part of the introduction.

Confessing the Messiah

By Dr Thomas Pink

Nothing following the motu proprio Summorum Pontificum of Pope Benedict XVI has caused more theological protest among Catholic liberals than the Pope's refusal to replace the 1962 prayer entitled Pro conversione Iudaeorum - 'For the conversion of the Jews' - in the intercessions of the Good Friday liturgy in the extraordinary form with the 1970 prayer entitled simply Pro Iudaeis - 'For the Jews' - that is to be found in the ordinary form of that liturgy, and which, though it prays for Jewish redemption, makes no explicit reference to Jewish conversion to Christ.

True, the content of that 1962 prayer for Jewish conversion was revised by the Pope in 2008. But the revision seems merely to have removed language referring to Jewish blindness and darkness that was seen in many quarters as needlessly insulting. Indeed, the new 2008 revision not only retains its 1962 title referring to conversion. It also states expressly as the 1962 prayer previously did not that Jesus Christ is the saviour of all people, and makes it explicit that the salvation of the Jews involves their acknowledgement of him as such. The introduction to the new 2008 prayer characterizes it as being specifically for the Jews to recognize Christ as the saviour of all and so, in particular, as their saviour; and then the prayer itself asks for Israel to be saved - something which therefore must inherently involve acceptance of faith in Christ as redeemer.

The liberal protests are based on their allegation that the Second Vatican Council changed Catholic teaching about Jewish salvation. Before the Council, Jewish salvation was taught by the Catholic Church to depend, just as did Gentile salvation, on conversion to faith in Christ and entry through baptism into the Church - the Church being a New Israel to be made up of Jew and Gentile alike. Whereas according to the dual covenant theology favoured by these liberal protestors and associated by them with the Council, Catholics should now admit that the Jews have in fidelity to the Old Testament Covenant a promise and means of salvation that is both unrevoked and quite separate from the way taken by Christians who follow Jesus Christ as their redeemer. The text that is alleged to support this is the conciliar decree Nostra Aetate with its Pauline message that the promises made by God to the Jewish people are irrevocable.

These claims about Vatican II are curious. For that same Council's Lumen Gentium itself describes the Catholic Church as the New Israel, and as involving a new People of God made up of Jew and Gentile alike based on a more perfect covenant than that which formed the Israel of the Old Testament:

He therefore chose the race of Israel as a people unto Himself. With it He set up a covenant.... All these things, however, were done by way of preparation and as a figure of that new and perfect covenant, which was to be ratified in Christ, and of that fuller revelation which was to be given through the Word of God Himself made flesh.... Christ instituted this new covenant, the new testament, that is to say, in His Blood, calling together a people made up of Jew and gentile, making them one, not according to the flesh but in the Spirit. This was to be the new People of God. Lumen Gentium §9

It is true that Vatican II allows that people can be saved without actually receiving baptism of water in this life, and also without attaining explicit faith in Christ during their lifetime. And so this possibility applies also to the Jews. But this admission was by no means original to the magisterium of Vatican II, and is arguably rooted deeply in previous Church teaching at the highest level (see Quanto conficiamur moerore of Pius IX and Suprema haec sacra of the Holy Office under Pius XII). And the admission certainly does not involve treating Judaism as offering for Jews an alternative and self-sufficient means of salvation besides that offered to Christians. For example Vatican II still insists that anyone who recognises the truth of the Catholic Church's claims must enter or at least intend to enter the Church through baptism if they are to be saved (see Ad Gentes §7 on Christian mission). Jews are not exempted from this requirement, which they would be if, consistently with Catholic truth, they had their own separate path to salvation.

Moreover, whether or not the 1970 Good Friday prayer is unclear about the terms of Jewish redemption, the 1970 Liturgy of the Hours, as has been pointed out by Gregor Kollmorgen and Fr Brian Harrison, is full of prayers that the Jews recognize Jesus as their Messiah and Redeemer.

The natural conclusion is that as a promise of salvation the Jewish covenant has indeed not been revoked - but rather has been fulfilled, being continued, in a more perfect and universal form, in the covenant of the New Testament. The Old Covenant has not been cancelled by the New, but has been transformed. Judaism is mistaken, not in thinking that it is involved in a still valid saving Covenant with God, but in the nature and true basis of that saving Covenant, which in actual fact involves all of humanity, Jew and Gentile alike, and which operates solely through the sacrifice of Christ. Christ's role as true Messiah of the Jews, the Messiah promised in the Old Testament, is just his role as universal saviour of mankind, the saviour proclaimed in the New Testament. And that seems indeed to be precisely the position of official post-conciliar Roman theology.

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.

Subsequent parts of the series:

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

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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