Friday, May 01, 2009

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

As we continue our series regarding Jewish salvation and the liceity of the extraordinary form Good Friday prayer for Jewish conversion, here is part III of the statement of Bishop Gerhard Ludwig Müller (see part I and II here and here and Dr Thomas Pink's Introduction to it here and here).

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

By Bishop Dr Gerhard Ludwig Müller

Translated by Dr Thomas Pink

The concept of 'Mission' and Judaism

In any dialogue between Jews and Christians the concept of mission must be presented properly. Christian mission has its source in the Father's sending forth of Jesus. Jesus gives his disciples a share in that mission in relation to God's people Israel (see Matthew 10, 5) and then also as the resurrected Lord in relation to all peoples (see Matthew 28, 19). Thus comes into being the people of God founded in the covenantal blood of Jesus, who calls his Church from both Jews and Gentiles (Ephesians 2, 11-21), on the basis of faith in Christ and by means of baptism, which is incorporation into his body, which is the Church (Lumen Gentium §14).

The Jews who do not arrive at faith in Christ are not excluded from salvation on that account, if they live from the grace of the covenant and in accordance with God's commandments. The salvation of which we are speaking here means though on the Christian understanding the salvation which God has given to Jews and Gentiles through Christ.

Differences in soteriological conceptions follow from the different evaluation of the person and mission of Jesus. Christian mission, therefore, is not about the use of subtle arts of persuasion to entice away believers in other religions, or of threats of disadvantage in this world and of punishments in the next to coerce someone into Christian faith.

Faith and freedom are mutual conditions of each other. A faith that is compelled or a baptism that is forced are contradictions in themselves and are opposed to revealed teaching (Dignitatis Humanae §10).

Mission and non-violence

Christian mission and witness through proclamation of the word and through the conduct of one's own life belong together. To prefer to suffer violence than to inflict it is the fundamental principle that Jesus gives to his disciples when he sends them forth. Christians can therefore trust in God, who will carry out his universal saving plan in ways that only he knows. For though Christians are witnesses of Christ, they do not have to accomplish the salvation of men themselves.

Zeal for the 'house of the Lord' and calm trust in the victorious action of God belong together. Christian mission means that the appointed messengers witness to and proclaim the historical realization of the universal salvific will of God in Jesus Christ and celebrate the sacramental presence of that realization in the martyria, leiturgia and diakonia of the Church of Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

The reason for this missionary Church lies in the universal salvific will of God, which realizes itself in the saving mediation of Christ: 'Therefore, all must be converted to Him, made known by the Church's preaching, and all must be incorporated into Him by baptism and into the Church which is His body. For Christ Himself by stressing in express language the necessity of faith and baptism (cf. Mark 16:16; John 3:5), at the same time confirmed the necessity of the Church, into which men enter by baptism, as by a door. Therefore those men cannot be saved, who though aware that God, through Jesus Christ founded the Church as something necessary, still do not wish to enter into it, or to persevere in it. Therefore though God in ways known to Himself can lead those inculpably ignorant of the Gospel to find that faith without which it is impossible to please Him (Hebrews 11:6), yet a necessity lies upon the Church (1 Corinthians 9:16), and at the same time a sacred right, to preach the Gospel. And hence missionary activity today as always fully retains its power and necessity.' Ad Gentes §7

Thus does the Second Vatican Council present the necessity for salvation of faith in Christ and of the Church.

The people of God made up of Jews and Gentiles - the witness of Scripture

It is and remains a qualitative definition of the Church of the New Covenant that both synchronically and diachronically she is a Church made up of Jews and Gentiles, even if the quantitative ratio of Jewish and Gentile Christians may give a different impression.

Just as after the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ there are not two unrelated covenants existing alongside each other, so there is not the covenantal people of Israel existing apart from and alongside the 'people of God made up of the Gentiles' (ZdK Declaration p17). Rather the continuing role of the covenantal people of Israel in God's salvific plan is dynamically related to the 'people of God made up of Jews and Gentiles – united in Christ', whom the Church confesses to be the universal mediator of creation and of salvation.

In the context of God's will that all should be saved, all those who have not yet received the Gospel of Christ are ordered towards the people of God of the New Covenant: 'In the first place that people to whom the testament and the promises were given and from whom Christ was born according to the flesh, a people most dear according to its election on account of the patriarchs: for the gifts and vocation of God are irrevocable.' (Vatican II Lumen Gentium §16)

Jews and Christians as brothers in dialogue

Hence it is possible to set out, in terms of the theology of revelation and the history of salvation, the relation of the Jewish and Christian faiths - and to do so without the Church of Christ having to restrict or even qualify the substance of her faith in her Lord and in her universal mission to proclaim the Gospel for all people.

Faith in Christ cannot be reconciled with any form of polemic or denigration of those 'Jews' (any more than of those 'Gentiles' or 'heathen') who in full sincerity of conscience lack belief in Jesus as the Christ. A Christian who is hostile to Jews - that would be a contradiction in terms. And the awful fact that there have been excesses committed by Christians against their Jewish brothers and sisters only shows that those have acted in a way that blatantly contradicts their own name of Christians.

Hostility towards Jews in circles that are (nominally) Christian is not a consequence of the confession of Christ, but proof of a betrayal of it. Enmity or any form of persecution is diametrically opposed to Christ's command. This is the declaration of the Council: 'Furthermore, in her rejection of every persecution against any man, the Church, mindful of the patrimony she shares with the Jews and moved not by political reasons but by the Gospel's spiritual love, deplores hatred, persecutions, displays of anti-Semitism, directed against Jews at any time and by anyone.' Nostra Aetate §4

On the other hand, in the context of the Jewish-Christian dialogue of today that has developed in so positive and friendly a way, there is equally no place for polemics and for the constant use of history to fuel renewed resentments or Christian self-accusations, as when the slogan 'Mission to the Jews' with all its load of historical and theological negativity is used to discredit the mission of the Church to witness Jesus, the Christ, as 'a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to thy people Israel.' Luke 2, 32.

How can New Testament passages when interpreted in a way hostile to Jews ever support a 'Mission to the Jews' (ZdK Declaration p16)? A scripturally based enmity towards Jews would be a contradiction in itself. Since 'the pilgrim Church is missionary by her very nature, since it is from the mission of the Son and the mission of the Holy Spirit that she draws her origin, in accordance with the decree of God the Father' (Ad Gentes §2), mission has nothing to do in any way with an attitude of hostility either to Jews or towards heathens that would, as in a form of political imperialism, confront opponents with a choice between extermination or subjection.

The opposite is the truth: 'This decree flows from the “fount-like love” or charity of God the Father' (Ad Gentes §2). God's reign is love, and his kingdom means the raising up of man in the grace of Christ, who has sacrificed his life for all out of love, and thereby the overcoming of all enmity.

Being a Christian is not the basis for some feeling of superiority, let alone for any contempt towards those of other faiths, but rather for assimilating oneself to Jesus's own attitude of humility and readiness for service, so that 'all the Church's children should remember that their exalted status is to be attributed not to their own merits but to the special grace of Christ.' Lumen Gentium §14

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

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

Subsequent parts of the series:

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

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