Walter Cardinal Kasper

Dialogika Resources

Dominus Iesus

Walter Cardinal Kasper, the president of the Pontifical Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews, delivered at the following remarks at the 17th meeting of the International Catholic-Jewish Liaison Committee, held in New York City.

1. The Declaration Dominus Iesus, published in September 2000 by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, has sparked off various reactions by different people and communities, also by Jews.

Obviously, there have been some misunderstandings. The highly technical language of this document for the instruction of Catholic theologians—a document that is perhaps a little too densely written—raised misunderstandings on the very meaning and intention of the text among people who are not very familiar with Catholic theological "jargon" and with the rules of its correct interpretation. Many of these reactions appear to be based on information which obviously uninformed secular mass-media have thrown into the arena of public opinion.

On the other hand, some substantial difficulty which theologically informed Jews might have had with the document would be more understandable, since it expresses matters—such as the interpretation of Jesus as the Son of God—on which Jews and Christians have parted ways many centuries ago. These differences deserve mutual respect. But, at the same time, they evoke painful memories of the past. This is why the document was often painful for Jews. It was not its intention to hurt or offend. But it did, and for this I can only express my profound regret. My friends' pains are also my pains.

2. But what was and what is the very problem? The problem raised by this text is linked with the intention of the document. The Declaration mainly deals with Interreligious Dialogue. But it is not itself in a dialogue either with Hindus, nor Moslems nor Jews. It argues against some newer relativistic and to some degree syncretistic theories among Christian theologians, theories spread in India and in the western so-called postmodern world as well, which advocate a pluralistic vision of religion and classify both Jewish and Christian religion under the category of ‘world religions'. It argues against theories that deny the specific identity of Jewish and Christian religion, and do not take into account the distinction between faith as answer to God's revelation and belief as human search for God and human religious wisdom. Thus, the Declaration defends the specific revelation character of the Hebrew Bible too, which we Christians call the Old Testament, against theories claiming, for example, that the Holy Books of Hinduism are the Old Testament for Hindus.

But this gave rise to misunderstandings. Some Jewish readers tend to think that the Church's attitude towards Jews and Judaism is a sub-category of its attitude towards world religions in general. Yet, such a presumption is a mistake, and so is the presumption that the document represents "a backward step in a concerted attempt to overturn the [in this case Catholic-Jewish] dialogue of recent decades". I am quoting here a comment made by a Jewish scholar.

This misunderstanding can be avoided if the Declaration is read and interpreted—as any magisterial document should—in the larger context of all other official documents and declarations, which are by no means cancelled, revoked or nullified by this document.

Read in this wider context, we must say that, with regard to the above-mentioned presumption, Catholic-Jewish relations are not a subset of interreligious relations in general, neither in theory or in practice. In practice: remember that our Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews is not attached to the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, but to the Pontifical Council which is responsible for the promotion of the ecumenical dialogue. In theory: remember that Judaism, in the mind of the Church, is unique among the world's religions, because, as Nostra Aetate states, it is "the root of that good olive tree onto which have been grafted the wild olive branches of the Gentiles" (cf. St. Paul in his letter to the Romans, 11:17-24). Or, as Pope John Paul II has put it on more than one occasion, "our two religious communities are connected and closely related at the very level of their religious identities" (his addresses of 12 March, 1979, and 6 March, 1982); and during his historic visit to the Synagogue of Rome on 13 April, 1986: "The Jewish religion is not ‘extrinsic' to us, but in a certain way is ‘intrinsic' to our own religion. With Judaism, therefore, we have a relationship which we do not have with any other religion. You are our dearly beloved brothers and, in a certain way, it could be said that you are our elder brothers".

On 6 March, 1982, the Pope referred to "the faith and religious life of the Jewish people as they are professed and practiced still today". In fact, also the Notes on the correct way to present the Jews and Judaism in preaching and catechesis in the Roman Catholic Church, published by our Commission on 24 June, 1985, are concerned that Judaism is not presented in Catholic teaching as being merely a historical and archeological reality. It refers to "the permanent reality of the Jewish people" - "the people of God of the Old Covenant, which has never been revoked" (John Paul II on 17 November, 1980, in Mainz) - as a "living reality closely related to the Church". In fact, the Notes remind us, Catholics, that "Abraham is truly the father of our faith (cf. Rm 4:11-12; Roman Canon: patriarchae nostri Abrahae)". And it is said (1 Co 10:1): ‘Our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea'".

Indeed Dominus Iesus too specifically acknowledges the divine revelation in the Hebrew Bible, in contrast to the sacred books of other religions.

Against some relativistic theories that subordinate both Jewish and Christian religion in the category of world religions, this document, referring to the II Vatican Council, states: "The Church's tradition, however, reserves the designation of inspired texts to the canonical books of the Old and New Testament, since these are inspired by the Holy Spirit".

Thus 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.

I think that Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, the Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, has clarified these questions in his article "L'eredità di Abramo" (The Heritage of Abraham, in L'Osservatore Romano, 29 December 2000) where he writes: "It is evident that dialogue of us Christians with the Jews stands on a different level with regard to the dialogue with the other religions. The faith witnessed in the Bible of the Jews, the Old Testament of Christians, is for us not a different religion but the foundation of our own faith". I think this is a clear statement, to which I have nothing to add.

3. Besides the already mentioned main problem raised by Dominus Iesus, there are other questions that I cannot deal with in this paper, since they would need a much more thorough discussion. These questions have already been object of our dialogue and should be on the agenda also in the future. In this context, I can only mention them, without claiming to solve them. Neither has Dominus Iesus the intention to enter these issues: they are beyond its intra-theological and intra-catholic intention.

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 a question touches the mystery of Jewish and Christian existence as well, and should be discussed in our further dialogue.

The only thing I wish to say is that the Document Dominus Iesus does not state that everybody needs to become a Catholic in order to be saved by God. On the contrary, it declares that God's grace, which is the grace of Jesus Christ according to our faith, is available to all. Therefore, the Church believes that Judaism, i.e. the faithful response of the Jewish people to God's irrevocable covenant, is salvific for them, because God is faithful to his promises.

This touches the problem of mission towards Jews, a painful question with regard to forced conversion in the past. Dominus Iesus, as other official documents, raised this question again saying that dialogue is a part of evangelisation. This stirred Jewish suspicion. But this is a language problem, since the term evangelisation, in official Church documents, cannot be understood in the same way it is commonly interpreted in everyday's speech. In strict theological language, evangelisation is a very complex and overall term, and reality. It implies presence and witness, prayer and liturgy, proclamation and catechesis, dialogue and social work. Now, presence and witness, prayer and liturgy, dialogue and social work, which are all part of evangelisation, do not have the goal of increasing the number of Catholics. Thus evangelisation, if understood in its proper and theological meaning, does not imply any attempt of proselytism whatsoever.

On the other hand, the term mission, in its proper sense, is referred to conversion from false gods and idols to the true and one God, who revealed himself in the salvation history with his elected people. Thus mission, in this strict sense, cannot be used with regard to Jews, who believe in the true and one God. Therefore -and this is characteristic- [there] does not exist any Catholic missionary organisation for Jews. There is dialogue with Jews; no mission in this proper sense of the word towards them. But what is dialogue? Certainly -as we learned from Jewish philosophers such as Martin Buber- it is more than small talk and mere exchange of opinions. It is also different from academic dispute, however important academic dispute may be within dialogue. Dialogue implies personal commitments and witness of one's own conviction and faith. Dialogue communicates one's faith and, at the same time, requires profound respect for the conviction and faith of the partner. It respects the difference of the other and brings mutual enrichment.

With this kind of dialogue we Catholics will continue in the future; with this kind of dialogue we can continue after Dominus Iesus. Dominus Iesus is not the end of dialogue but a challenge for a further and even more intensive dialogue. We need this dialogue for our own identity and for the sake of the world. In today's world, we, Jews and Christians, have a common mission: together we should give an orientation. Together we must be ambassadors of peace and bring about Shalom.