The following should be read in connection with Cardinal Walter Kasper: Helping or Hindering the CDF?
Michael Joseph (Vox Nova) responds in Kasper’s defense Clarifying Cardinal Kasper on Ecumenism and Evangelization.
As Michael points out, any document issued by the Church is best read in context with past statements. (The copious use of footnotes are there for a reason). A lot of misunderstandings could be avoided by reading “within the totality of the greater context of magisterial and curial teachings on ecclesiology, ecumenism and mission.” The helpful documents in this case which Michael recommends (and bear repeating) are:
- Lumen Gentium
- Unitatus Redintegratio
- Orientalium Ecclesiarum
- Pope Paul VI’s Mysterium Fidei
- John Paul II’s Ut Unum Sint;
- and the CDF’s Communionis and Dominus Iesus.
Moving on to Michael’s objections . . .
Cardinal Kasper and the Jews
There is also the delicate question, frequently addressed by Kasper, on the relationship of the Jews to the Catholic Church. Kasper has described the Jewish faith as “salvific” on several occassions. Regrettably, many Catholics have misread these statements–likely due to having little theological reading under their belt–and contorted them into suggesting that the Jews can be saved simply by being Jewish. But such an interpretation is far too heavy for Kasper’s words to bear. The covenants of God with Israel are stages in “salvation history,” which means that each covenant reveals or discloses the salvific plan of God for humanity, sanctifying those with whom the covenant is made. That said, Kasper’s use of “salvific” is really quite simple: the Jews already participate in salvation history by means of their covenants with God (cf. Romans 9-11). Vatican II expressly stated that the Jews are “most dear for the sake of the fathers, for the gifts of God are without repentence,” that they are included in “the plan of salvation” (Lumen gentium, no.16), and that the “Church of Christ acknowledges that in God’s plan of salvation the beginning of her faith and election is to be found in the patriarachs, Moses and the prophets” (Nostra Aetate, no. 4). Salvation history does not begin with Jesus, yet it is fulfilled with Jesus, who said himself “Salvation comes from the Jews” (John 4:22). Thus, Jews, by virtue of their covenants with God, participate in the salvific plan for humanity in a way wholly unlike any other non-Christian faith. The Jews are already “on the way” to Christ, so to speak, and so evangelization of the Jews is an altogether different affair than evangelization of, and mission to, members of other faiths.
However, the covenants of Israel coalesce and culminate in Jesus, so salvation is a full reality only through faith in Jesus the Christ. The chosen people of God, the Jews, are predisposed as a people for receiving Christ as their Messiah. But that final step of faith into the fulfilled covenant of the blood of God is still necessary, and Kasper has never denied this.
Michael provides a general summary of the Church teaching on the question of the Jews. None of this is particularly news — I’ve discussed this and other issues in Jewish-Christian relations (probably to the point of overkill) since this blog began, and I’m familiar with the Catholic contributions to this field (Cardinal Johannes Willebrands, Msgr. John Österreicher, Eugene Fisher, Fr. Flannery, Fr. Palikowski, Fr. Hans Hermann Henrix) and not a few Jews or Protestants.
I should point out, however, that as educational as Michael’s summary may be, it is hardly sufficient and not “really quite simple” as he suggests: a cursory reading of those involved in Jewish Christian dialogue reveals a range of differing interpretations, and as far as this topic is concerned I don’t think another passage is contested more heavily between Jews and Christians, and between Christians vs. Christian, than “the covenant has not been revoked.”
My concern with Cardinal Kasper on this subject lies not so much with his personal theological opinions but his public statements, and the general impression given to his audience through his choice of words.
The Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews is quite clear on the correct interpretation of Nostra Aetate, insofar as the salvation of the Jews is concerned:
7. “In virtue of her divine mission, the Church” which is to be “the all-embracing means of salvation” in which alone “the fulness of the means of salvation can be obtained” (Unit. Red. 3); “must of her nature proclaim Jesus Christ to the world” (cf. Guidelines and Suggestions, I). Indeed we believe that is is through him that we go to the Father (cf. Jn. 14:6) “and this is eternal life, that they know thee the only true God and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent” (Jn 17:33).
Jesus affirms (ibid. 10:16) that “there shall be one flock and one shepherd”. Church and Judaism cannot then be seen as two parallel ways of salvation and the Church must witness to Christ as the Redeemer for all, “while maintaining the strictest respect for religious liberty in line with the teaching of the Second Vatican Council (Declaration Dignitatis Humanae)” (Guidelines and Suggestions, I).
As far as rejecting the ‘parallel ways to salvation’, Kasper does touch on this all-too-briefly in the discussion which I quotes (his address to the Jews concerning Dominus Iesus in 2001):
One of these questions is how to relate the covenant with the Jewish people, which according to St. Paul is unbroken and not revoked but still in vigour, with what we Christians call the New covenant. As you know, the old theory of substitution is gone since II Vatican Council. For us Christians today the covenant with the Jewish people is a living heritage, a living reality. There cannot be a mere coexistence between the two covenants. Jews and Christians, by their respective specific identities, are intimately related to each other. It is impossible now to enter the complex problem of how this intimate relatedness should or could be defined. Such question touches the mystery of Jewish and Christian existence as well, and should be discussed in our further dialogue.
Catholics may allude to the possibility of Jews being saved by Christ even through the expression of their own fidelity to their covenant but insist nonetheless — quoting Michael Joseph — “on the final step of faith into the fulfilled covenant of the blood of God is still necessary.” Jews on the other hand will more often than not interpret that phrase (when stated in isolation) as meaning they have no obligation to consider the claims of the Church.
Michael is right: Kasper “has never denied” that Jews must take the “final step of faith into the fulfilled covenant” — But could he have stated that more forcefully? Did his Jewish (and Christian) audience take that from his 2001 address? Or come to other conclusions?
It comes as no suprise to me that the authors of Reflections on Covenant and Mission (a 2002 joint release by The Bishops Committee for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs, USCCB and the The National Council of Synagogues) based their reflections on the same May 1, 2001 address from Cardinal Walter Kasper, stating that while the Church accepts individual converts from Judaism “out of respect for religious liberty”:
. . . it also acknowledges that Jews already dwell in a saving covenant with God. However, this evangelizing task no longer includes the wish to absorb the Jewish faith into Christianity and so end the distinctive witness of Jews to God in human history.
Thus, while the Catholic Church regards the saving act of Christ as central to the process of human salvation for all, it also acknowledges that Jews already dwell in a saving covenant with God. . . .
Jews are also called by God to prepare the world for God’s kingdom. Their witness to the kingdom, which did not originate with the Church’s experience of Christ crucified and raised, must not be curtailed by seeking the conversion of the Jewish people to Christianity.
There was considerable and understandable criticism of the ambiguities in the document upon its release: Cardinal Dulles responded in America; Deal Hudson (Crisis); Carl Olson (then editor of Envoy Magazine); Fr. James V. Schall, SJ, Dr. Ronda Chervin, Fr. Francis Martin and others voiced their criticism of the document in a symposium for the National Catholic Register.
In the end, Cardinal Keeler was obliged to distance himself, stating that the document “does not represent a formal position taken by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) or the Bishops’ Committee for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs (BCEIA)” (it was removed as well from the USCCB website; to this day the reference appears, but no link to the actual text).
I cannot say whether Cardinal Kasper’s views cohere exactly with those of the authors of Reflections on Covenant and Mission (has he ever commented on that debacle?), nor do I wish to place the blame squarely upon his shoulders. However, there is no question the authors took inspiration from his 2001 address and his selective presentation of Church teaching.
[Update – Donald McClarey offers a bit of background on Cardinal Kasper’s role in the meetings which culminated in the release of this document.]
Kasper and the CDF’s “Responses to Some Questions”
Michael omits Kasper’s reported grumbling against Dominus Iesus as reported in an interview with the , in which he expressed his personal offense at the suggestion that churches born of the Reformation were not “churches in the proper sense,” describing the language of Dominus Iesus as “clumsy and ambiguous.” The fact that he now informs his Protestant critics that they are likely overreacting to the CDF is certainly heartening.
My chief concern, as indicated in my previous post, is the overall effect that Kasper leaves on his ecumenical audience by the manner in which he “clarifies” the documents in question.
Michael contends that:
The drive behind ecumenism is not to draw Protestants and Orthodox into the Catholic Church. The drive is to remove the obstacles to unity so that Protestants and Orthodox have no reason to remain divided or alienated from the fullness of the Church of which they are already a part, albeit imperfectly. And this includes the humble housekeeping within the Catholic Church so that it is truly an example of holiness and a worthy recipient of the esteem of other Christians.
Perhaps I misinterpret Michael, but it seems as though the intention of the first sentence is phrased in opposition to the second. I wouldn’t perceive them as being exclusive. Q: Wouldn’t the “removal of obstacles to unity” likewise serve the aim of bringing Protestants and Orthodox into full communion with the Church?
I admit that whenever I hear these phrases like “removing obstacles to unity” and achieving “full communion” in the context of ecumenical dialogue and particularly with Protestants, I have to wonder: do Catholics and Protestants share the same understanding of these phrases? — I could name a few “obstacles to unity” for Protestants which Catholics understand to be normative to our faith and practice.
Consider the press release of the World Council of Churches, which if I read the news correctly is the body to whom Kasper was responding in his cautionary letter. Responding to the CDF, Setri Nyomi (Rev. Dr.) General Secretary expressed the WCC’s specific problem with the statement that “These ecclesial Communities which, specifically because of the absence of the sacramental priesthood, have not preserved the genuine and integral substance of the Eucharistic Mystery cannot, according to Catholic doctrine, be called ‘Churches’ in the proper sense,” stating:
Since Vatican II, our dialogues have sought to understand and overcome differences we have had for centuries, and to build common agreements over things we hold dear in our common Christian faith. The outcomes especially of Reformed-Catholic dialogues on “Towards a Common Understanding of the Church” and “The Church as Communion of Common Witness to the Kingdom of God” have given hope to our journey of overcoming differences and affirming our oneness in the Church of Jesus Christ.
An exclusive claim that identifies the Roman Catholic Church as the one church of Jesus Christ, as we read in the statement released today, goes against the spirit of our Christian calling towards oneness in Christ.
Kasper was right to point out that the CDF’s proclamation was “nothing new” and “clarifies positions that the Catholic Church has held for a long time” and that this was a “clarification of the dialogue” (would that he have adopted this approach more firmly at the time of Dominus Iesus, when the Church likewise asserted “nothing new”). But was it enough to say that Catholic and Protestants “mean different things by ‘church'” or to point to the “recognition of baptism . . . and a series of positive statements about the Protestant eucharist (Decree on Ecumenism 22)”?
In my opinion (for what it’s worth), to suggest that Unitatis redintegratio is a “positive” statement of the “Protestant eucharist” is questionable and I suspect that Setri Nyomi would find it just as offensive, having declared his adamant opposition to the Church’s self-conception as “the Church of Jesus Christ” and the Catholic belief that Protestants “have not preserved the genuine and integral substance of the Eucharistic Mystery” because of the absence of the sacramental priesthood.
Kasper seems most optimistic in believing can proceed from there; I do hope the WCC will reconcider and respond in the desired manner.
There is a passage from John Paul II’s Ut Unum Sint that leapt out at me and to this present pseudo-“crisis”:
Ecumenism implies that the Christian communities should help one another so that there may be truly present in them the full content and all the requirements of “the heritage handed down by the Apostles”. Without this, full communion will never be possible. This mutual help in the search for truth is a sublime form of evangelical charity. . . .
The documents of the many International Mixed Commissions of dialogue have expressed this commitment to seeking unity. On the basis of a certain fundamental doctrinal unity, these texts discuss Baptism, Eucharist, ministry and authority.
From this basic but partial unity it is now necessary to advance towards the visible unity which is required and sufficient and which is manifested in a real and concrete way, so that the Churches may truly become a sign of that full communion in the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church which will be expressed in the common celebration of the Eucharist.
This journey towards the necessary and sufficient visible unity, in the communion of the one Church willed by Christ, continues to require patient and courageous efforts. In this process, one must not impose any burden beyond that which is strictly necessary (cf. Acts 15:28).
79. It is already possible to identify the areas in need of fuller study before a true consensus of faith can be achieved: 1) the relationship between Sacred Scripture, as the highest authority in matters of faith, and Sacred Tradition, as indispensable to the interpretation of the Word of God; 2) the Eucharist, as the Sacrament of the Body and Blood of Christ, an offering of praise to the Father, the sacrificial memorial and Real Presence of Christ and the sanctifying outpouring of the Holy Spirit; 3) Ordination, as a Sacrament, to the threefold ministry of the episcopate, presbyterate and diaconate; 4) the Magisterium of the Church, entrusted to the Pope and the Bishops in communion with him, understood as a responsibility and an authority exercised in the name of Christ for teaching and safeguarding the faith; 5) the Virgin Mary, as Mother of God and Icon of the Church, the spiritual Mother who intercedes for Christ’s disciples and for all humanity.
In this courageous journey towards unity, the transparency and the prudence of faith require us to avoid both false irenicism and indifference to the Church’s ordinances. Conversely, that same transparency and prudence urge us to reject a halfhearted commitment to unity and, even more, a prejudicial opposition or a defeatism which tends to see everything in negative terms.
To uphold a vision of unity which takes account of all the demands of revealed truth does not mean to put a brake on the ecumenical movement. On the contrary, it means preventing it from settling for apparent solutions which would lead to no firm and solid results. The obligation to respect the truth is absolute. Is this not the law of the Gospel?
It is with this in mind — this attentiveness to revealed truth and an intolerance for “apparent solutions which would lead to no firm and solid results” that we should receive the Congregation’s latest release.