Christian Conversion of Jews?
- Created: April 14, 2009
- Written by Gerhard Ludwig Mueller
The following "opinion" was posted on the website of the German Bishops Conference (http://www.deutsche-bischofskonferenz.de/) on April 14, 2009 with the following introduction: "The Chairman of the Ecumenical Commission of the German Bishops' Conference, Bishop Gerhard Ludwig Mueller, has written the following opinion piece on the statement of the discussion group 'Jews and Christians' of the Central Committee of German Catholics, 'No to the Mission to the Jews - Yes to dialogue between Jews and Christians'". The essay itslef has been translated by Thomas Pink for the website New Liturgical Movement (http://www.newliturgicalmovement.org).
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.
God's grace and human action
We must distinguish between, on the one hand, any reduction either of Judaism or of Christianity, both of which know themselves to derive from a divinely given covenant, to ethics as a humanly self-sufficient way to God - indeed almost to a claim on salvation - and on the other hand recognition of the fundamental human right to religious freedom (Vatican II Dignitatis Humanae §2). In this sense the Second Vatican Council teaches that each person has the right and duty to follow their own conscience in matters of religious conviction and moral action and in this way to fulfil the rule of truth and goodness (Dignitatis Humanae §3).
Hence those people can be saved and attain final communion with God who through no fault of their own lack belief in Jesus Christ, indeed under certain circumstances even lack belief in the existence of a personal God as creator and consummator, but not – and this is decisive – without the grace of Christ working invisibly within them.
Since from a Christian viewpoint nothing can be said of God apart from Jesus the Christ, the incarnate Word, and apart from the Holy Spirit eschatologically poured out 'upon all flesh' (Acts 2, 17), the salvation that comes from God is always through Jesus Christ and through the inner working of the Holy Spirit (Vatican II Gaudium et Spes §22).
'Besides, as the Church has always held and holds now, Christ underwent His passion and death freely, because of the sins of all men and out of infinite love, in order that all may reach salvation. It is, therefore, the burden of the Church's preaching to proclaim the cross of Christ as the sign of God's all-embracing love and as the fountain from which every grace flows.' (Vatican II Nostra Aetate §4)
The explicit confession of Christ and the making concrete of that confession in membership of the Church, a life based on the sacraments and on following after Christ - these are therefore necessary as means to salvation for all who recognize Jesus as the Christ.
Mutual respect without qualification of one's own belief.
Walter Cardinal Kasper stressed that if one 'is convinced, with Scripture, of the universal salvific significance of Jesus Christ' one cannot speak of two ways to salvation, one for Jews and one for Christians. Rather in the relationship of the Scriptures of the Mosaic covenant and of the New Testament there is revealed a common salvation history, within which 'the Jewish people remains God's chosen people', a people whose covenant is confirmed, surpassed and universalized by Jesus Christ (Walter Kasper, Where the Heart of Faith Beats: the Experience of My Life, Freiburg 2008, pp294f).
Differences between religions have their origin not in mutually independent revelations, covenants and saving actions on God's part - a God who directs himself to each one of a variety of targeted groups and who would thereby split up humanity rather than unite it. This would contradict the singleness of God: 'God our Saviour, desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all.' 1 Timothy 2, 4-5
From here flow both the being and mission of the Church as sacrament of the world's salvation in Christ, in whom the Church is 'a sign and instrument both of an intimate union with God and of the unity (!) of the whole human race'. Lumen Gentium §1
Credal differences result from the diverse reactions of men following their own conscientious conceptions of the truth in relation to God's self-revelation.
People of differing faiths can therefore live together in complete mutual respect with people of other religions and work together in friendship for the construction of a single society based on ethical principles founded on religion or natural law.
But they can also bear their differences without attributing to each other false or evil intentions. A qualification of each party's own binding creed would, on the other hand, make any dialogue superfluous. Such dialogue is however both sensible and mutually beneficial since particularly between Jews and Christians the fact of an historical self-revelation of God is not in dispute, even if there remain diverse convictions about the scope of that revelation, that is about its culmination in the person and mission of Jesus Christ.
Hence it would be a reduction of Catholic teaching about the realization of the universal salvific will of God in Jesus Christ and about Christ's sole mediation of salvation and about the consequent necessity to salvation of the Church and of baptism, as well as about the possibility of salvation of those who, through no fault of their own, lack belief in Christ, if alongside and independent of these conditions there were also a way to salvation 'even apart from recognition of Jesus Christ and apart from the sacrament of baptism' (ZdK Declaration p5) as something confirmed by God himself.
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)
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.
Jews and Christians as brothers in dialogue
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
The Search for Fundamental Reconciliation
The text of the ZdK's 'Jews and Christians' dialogue circle carries the all too showy title 'No to Mission to the Jews - yes to Jewish-Christian dialogue'. The either-or choice suggested here oversimplifies beyond the possible measure the theologically complex unity of the Old Covenant with the New as well as the difference between the Jewish and Christian faith-communities in respect of the confession of Jesus the Christ.
We must surely welcome it if in a theological research circle there is a deepening of the positive relation between Christians and Jews regarding the sources of revelation and confessional belief, if wounds are healed and if a deeper reconciliation is sought. Given a spiritual relationship rooted in the God of creation and of covenant (see Nostra Aetate §4), Christians and Jews face a common challenge, namely that of giving witness before a secularised world to the liberating power of God and of proclaiming the human dignity that is based on that power. Man is created in the image of God, and is called to the freedom and glory that belongs to God's children (see Romans 8, 21).
Dialogue in a research circle cannot however occur at the expense of qualifying or muddying essential Christian doctrines about the mysteries of the Trinity and Incarnation, about the redemption and justification of sinners, about grace and original sin, about the universal and sole mediation of Christ, about the necessity for salvation of the Church, of faith in Christ, and of union with Christ in the sacraments, and about the relation of God's will that all be saved to that will's realisation in Church and sacrament.
From the point of view of Catholic theology it is very difficult to make out any convincing conception of the subject in the text being considered.
Magisterial evaluation of the 'Jews and Christians' dialogue group's declaration
The text has no magisterial authority. It can in no way be regarded as an official document of the Catholic Church or as an authentic presentation of the Catholic faith and confession. The text is guided by a quite blatant setting of the teaching of the Second Vatican Council and of John Paul II against the teaching and legitimate measures (in the formulation of liturgical texts) of Pope Benedict XVI - an opposition (ZdK Declaration pp1, 10) which both in form and content is completely off the mark.
Neither is it true that the reformulation of the intercession for the Jews in the extraordinary rite of the Good Friday liturgy has anything to do with a 'Mission to the Jews' in the absolutely pejorative sense which the research circle's paper insinuates ("the Mission to the Jews … as expression of a disdain of Judaism... and therefore prepared the ground for the anti-Semitism of National Socialism." ZdK Declaration p13). Nor is there a 'Church of the Second Vatican Council' which presents the covenant of God with the Jewish people as one saving way to God – ‘even without any recognition of Jesus Christ and without the sacrament of baptism’ (ZdK Declaration p1).
The Second Vatican Council precisely did not express itself in this reductive and ambiguous way.
Nostra Aetate is of great importance for the new beginning in relations between Jews and Christians. But neither this declaration nor other Council texts nor the New Testament may be interpreted selectively on the basis of certain preconceptions which qualify the universal mediation of salvation of Jesus Christ and the consequent necessity for salvation of the confession of Christ, of the Church and of her sacraments.
Church teaching in its entirety and interrelatedness remains determinative. In the interpretation of revelation as it is transmitted in proper yet related ways in each of Scripture and Tradition, Catholic theology must always respect the fact that the binding explanation of revelation is 'entrusted exclusively to the living magisterium of the Church, whose authority is exercised in the name of Jesus Christ.' Dei Verbum §10
For this reason the Church’s undiminished confession of Christ remains constitutive of the Catholic faith and a central point of reference in the dialogue with the Jewish faith-community.
The Second Vatican Council has in Nostra Aetate framed the foundations for a dialogue which encompasses both what has already been achieved and responsibility for the future: 'Together with the Prophets and the same Apostle, the Church awaits that day, known to God alone, on which all peoples will call on the Lord in a single voice and "serve him shoulder to shoulder" (Zeph. 3:9). Since the spiritual patrimony common to Christians and Jews is thus so great, this sacred synod wants to foster and recommend that mutual understanding and respect which is the fruit, above all, of biblical and theological studies as well as of fraternal dialogues.' Nostra Aetate §4.
Jews and Christians should be a blessing to the world
The words of John Paul II which he uttered in 1993 to the Jews of his homeland Poland are still valid for the proper development of Jewish-Christian dialogue: 'As Christians and as Jews we follow the example of Abraham. We are called to be a blessing to the world. That is the task that awaits us. It is absolutely essential for us, Christians and Jews both, first to be a blessing to each other!'
Pope Benedict XVI took up this theme in the Cologne synagogue on his visit in 2005 during World Youth Day: 'On this occasion too I would like to assure you that I intend to continue with complete commitment on the path of improving relations and friendship with the Jewish people - a path along which Pope John Paul II took decisive steps.'