With great affection I also greet all those who have been reborn in the sacrament of Baptism but are not yet in full communion with us; and you, my brothers and sisters of the Jewish people, to whom we are joined by a great shared spiritual heritage, one rooted in God’s irrevocable promises.
Pope Benedict XVI, Inaugural Mass Homily April 24, 2005.* * *While the harpies of the press and disgruntled remnants of heterodox factions are doing their best to fan the flames of controversy over the Cardinal’s brief stint in the Hitler Youth — rather a non-issue after a careful review of the facts — a few people have actually raised the genuine inquiry: what does Cardinal Ratzinger, Pope Benedict XVI, actually think about the Jewish people?
Over the course of his life, as a Catholic theologian as well as in his formal capacity as Prefect of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, the Holy Father has written on the Church’s relationship to the Jewish people. Following is, to the best of my memory, an overview of the ‘highlights’. (To those for whom much of this is a recap of earlier discussions, my apologies).
‘Interreligious Dialogue and Jewish-Christian Relations’ (1998)
Interreligious Dialogue and Jewish-Christian Relations Communio 25, no. 1 (1998): 29-41. [.pdf format]; HTML Version. Produced for a session of the Academy of Moral and Political Sciences, Paris, this essay was published in Communio and was republished in Many Religions, One Covenant. The piece is chiefly devoted to the matter of interreligious dialogue and various approaches to the world’s religions — such as the sublimination of theistic religions into a transcendental, mystical model; the pragmatic approach, which prioritizes orthopracy over dogma and “interminable wrangling over truth” — pointing out their strengths and deficiencies. In the latter part of the essay, Cardinal Ratzinger notes that beyond the superficial opposition of the “Old” to “New” Testament, “the primal fact is that through Christ Israel’s Bible came to the non-Jews and became their Bible,” bringing Jews and Gentiles together. Furthermore:
Christianity does not give up this basic configuration. The trinity of faith, hope, and love corresponds in a certain respect to the three dimensions of time: the obedience of faith takes the word that comes from eternity and is spoken in history and transforms it into love, into presence, and in this way opens the door to hope. It is characteristic of the Christian faith that all three dimensions are contained and sustained in the figure of Christ, who also introduces them into eternity. In him, time and eternity exist together, and the infinite gulf between God and man is bridged. For Christ is the one who came to us without therefore ceasing to be with the Father; he is present in the believing community, and yet at the same time is still the one who is coming. The Church too awaits the Messiah. She already knows him, yet he has still to reveal his glory. Obedience and promise belong together for the Christian faith, too. For Christians, Christ is the present Sinai, the living Torah that lays its obligations on us, that bindingly commands us, but that in so doing draws us into the broad space of love and its inexhaustible possibilities. In this way, Christ guarantees hope in the God who does not let history sink into a meaningless past, but rather sustains it and brings it to its goal. It likewise follows from this that the figure of Christ simultaneously unites and divides Israel and the Church: it is not in our power to overcome this division, but it keeps us together on the way to what is coming and for this reason must not become an enmity.
“Reconciling Gospel & Torah: The Catechism” (1994)
“Reconciling Gospel & Torah: The Catechism”. This essay was originally written for a Jewish-Christian encounter in Jerusalem in February 1994 and was republished in various forms, including the first section of Many Religions, One Covenant. Ratzinger asks the question: “Can Christian faith, left in its inner power and dignity, not only tolerate Judaism but accept it in its historic mission? Or can it not? Can there be true reconciliation without abandoning the faith, or is reconciliation tied to such abandonment?” — framing his answer in light of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which teaches:
During the course of this essay Ratzinger takes a stand against the “superficial polemics” of anti-Jewish biblical hermeneutics, objecting to “crass contrasts [which] have become a cliché in modern and liberal descriptions where Pharisees and priests are portrayed as the representatives of a hardened legalism, as representatives of the eternal law of the establishment presided over by religious and political authorities who hinder freedom and live from the oppression of others.”
“Where the conflict between Jesus and the Judaism of his time is presented in a superficial, polemical way,” says Ratzinger, “a concept of liberation is derived which can understand the Torah only as a slavery to external rites and observances.” Such an antinomian portrayal of Jesus are in no way part of the Catechism, whose presentation of Judaism is derived from St. Matthew and presents “a deep unity between the good news of Jesus and the message of Sinai.”
Citing paragraph # 1968 of the Catechism, Ratzinger goes on to say:
In the third part of this essay, Cardinal Ratzinger discusses Jesus’ encounter with the Jewish authorities, exploring the mysterious way in which he fundamentally reinterprets and transforms the Torah, opening up the covenant to the Gentiles in a process which culminated in his crucifixion and resurrection from the dead. I won’t go into further details, but suffice to say it’s a good read. According to the Cardinal, Jesus’ death on the cross
I expect that Christian and Jewish readers will be sharply divided in their reactions to this portion — the former intrigued by Ratzinger’s line of thought; the latter finding themselves in disagreement. Nevertheless, it is my hope that Jewish readers will at the very least appreciate the Cardinal’s rebuke of anti-Judaism and his reminder that: “Jesus did not act as a liberal reformer recommending and himself presenting a more understanding interpretation of the law. In Jesus’ exchange with the Jewish authorities of his time, we are not dealing with a confrontation between a liberal reformer and an ossified traditionalist hierarchy. Such a view, though common, fundamentally misunderstands the conflict of the New Testament and does justice neither to Jesus nor to Israel.”
The Cardinal closes with a reiteration of the Catechism‘s rejection of the charge of deicide and collective Jewish guilt, teaching that “Jesus’ violent death was not the result of chance in an unfortunate coincidence of circumstances, but is part of the mystery of God’s plan” (599) and that “All sinners were the authors of Christ’s passion.”
‘Reconciling Gospel & Torah’ is an interesting essay — one which I found to be conciliatory in spirit and refreshing in its rebuke of “superficial polemics” against the Jews and caricatures of the Jewish law which are found in liberal theology as well as some traditionalist camps.
Dominus Iesus (August, 2000)
Dominus Iesus, or “Declaration on the unicity and salvific universality of Jesus Christ and the Church” was chiefly intended as a corrective measure to theological excesses and erroneous positions adopted in the course of ecumenical/interreligious dialogue, as well as were found in theologies of “religious pluralism.” As such, it was not really intended to address the issue of the Church’s relationship with the Jewish people. Nevertheless, some Jews did take offense at its reiteration of standard Christian doctrine concerning the centrality of Christ and his Church in the salvation of mankind, their protests bolstered in part by the press, enough to warrant commentary by Cardinal Kasper, President of the Pontifical Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews, who offered both an apology for any misunderstanding that might have occured as well as a defense of Cardinal Ratzinger and the intent of the document:
[Dominus Iesus] does not affect Catholic-Jewish relations in a negative way. Because of its purpose, it does not deal with the question of the theology of Catholic-Jewish relations, proclaimed by Nostra Aetate, and of subsequent Church teaching. What the document tries to “correct” is another category, namely the attempts by some Christian theologians to find a kind of “universal theology” of interreligious relations, which, in some cases, has led to indifferentism, relativism and syncretism. Against such theories we, as Jews and Christians, are on the same side, sitting in the same boat; we have to fight, to argue and to bear witness together. Our common self-understanding is at stake.
Rabbi David Berger of the Rabbinical Council for America, on the other hand, took issue with Cardinal Kasper’s interpretation that Jews “are entirely excluded from the purview of its controversial assertions,” and offered his own qualified support of the “supercessionism” of Cardinal Ratzinger (On Dominus Iesus and the Jews May 1, 2001 — further commentary: “To Evangelize – Or Not to Evangelize?” Against the Grain March 21, 2005).
The Heritage of Abraham: The Gift of Christmas (December, 2000)
The Heritage of Abraham: The Gift of Christmas, published in L’Osservatore Romano December 29, 2000, is one of my favorite writings by our Holy Father on the Jewish people — in that it clearly demonstrates his alignment with the thought of his close friend and predecessor, Pope John Paul II, and the Second Vatican Council, in speaking of a “new vision of Jewish-Christian relations”:
Perhaps it is precisely because of this latest tragedy that a new vision of the relationship between the Church and Israel has been born: a sincere willingness to overcome every kind of anti-Judaism, and to initiate a constructive dialogue based on knowledge of each other, and on reconciliation. If such a dialogue is to be fruitful, it must begin with a prayer to our God, first of all that he might grant to us Christians a greater esteem and love for that people, the people of Israel, to whom belong “the adoption as sons, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises; theirs are the patriarchs, and from them comes Christ according to the flesh, he who is over all, God, blessed forever. Amen” (Romans 9:4-5), and this not only in the past, but still today, “for the gifts and the call of God are irrevocable” (Romans 11:29). In the same way, let us pray that he may grant also to the children of Israel a deeper knowledge of Jesus of Nazareth, who is their son, and the gift they have made to us. Since we are both awaiting the final redemption, let us pray that the paths we follow may converge.
The Jewish People & Their Sacred Scriptures (May, 2001)
The Jewish People and Their Sacred Scriptures in the Christian Bible was published by the Pontifical Biblical Commission on May 4, 2001. In the wake of the Shoah, it dealt with the pertient questions of whether Christians “can still claim in good conscience to be the legitimate heirs of Israel’s Bible . . . and propose a Christian interpretation of the Bible,” also addressing the issue of scriptural passages in the New Testament deemed “anti-semitic”. Although the document reaffirmed the unity of the Old & New Testaments and Christian reading of the Jewish scriptures, it did include a positive treatment of the Jews, as indicated in Cardinal Ratzinger’s proposal that:
Likewise, the document caused something of a stir in the Jewish press by its recognition that:
- The Wait Is Over: Jews’ Messiah Now Kosher, by Eric J. Greenberg. The Jewish Week January 25, 2002. Containing certain excesses of interpretation of the notable passage by Eugene Fisher, ecumenical director for the National Conference of Catholic Bishops.
- Rome Has Spoken: A New Catholic Approach to Judaism, by Donald Senior, C.P. President of the Catholic Theological Union at Chicago and appointed by Pope John Paul II to the Pontifical Biblical Commission. Commonweal January 31, 2003 / Volume CXXX, Number 2.
- Selected Important Quotations with Comments by Philip A. Cunningham. Boston College Center for Christian-Jewish Learning.
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This will not be last we have heard from Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI, on the subject of our elder brothers and sisters in the faith. We can rest assured that, contrary to the fear-mongering accusations of some critics, as well as honest concerns of others, our Holy Father will carry on the friendship between the Church and Israel that was maintained to such an excellent degree by Pope John Paul II.
- Pope Benedict XVI, Child of Abraham, by Rabbi David Rosen. International Director of Interreligious Affairs of the American Jewish Committee. Beliefnet.com.
- Pope reaches out to Jews, promising to foster dialogue (AFP) April 21, 2005. Catholic.org.
- The Big Thing: Jews have a lot in common with Pope Benedict XVI, by David Klinghoffer. National Review Online. April 20, 2005.
- How Future Pope Won the Respect of Jewish Leaders, by Meghan Cline. New York Sun April 22, 2005.