Walter Cardinal Kasper

Dialogika Resources


Cardinal Kasper contributed the following foreword to the book, Christ Jesus and the Jewish People Today: New Explorations of Theological Interrelationships, published in March 2011 in the United States by William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company and in Europe by Gregorian and Biblical Press. The volume is the result of a five-year research project undertaken by scholars from Europe, North America, and Israel whose work the cardinal had followed and encouraged.

In 2010, the official dialogue between the Jewish people and the Catholic Church can celebrate two anniversaries: a 50th anniversary, for on September 18, 1960 Pope John XXIII gave Cardinal Augustin Bea the task of conducting dialogue with Jews; and a 45th anniversary, for on October 28, 1965 Pope Paul VI solemnly promulgated Vatican II’s Nostra Aetate, the declaration that is fundamental for this dialogue. I am glad that the present volume can appear on this occasion, and I would like to express my deepest thanks to all who were involved in its realization.

In this foreword I would like to set the present volume into the context of the recent history of Jewish-Christian relations and then to make some fundamental points about the relationship between Judaism and the Church from my perspective.

The history of Jewish-Christian relations is complex and difficult. In addition to some better times, as when bishops took Jews under their protection against pogroms by mobs, there were dark times that have been especially impressed upon the collective Jewish consciousness. The Shoah, the state-sponsored organized murder of approximately six million European Jews, based on a primitive racial ideology, is the absolute low point in this history. The Holocaust cannot be attributed to Christianity as such, since it also had clear anti-Christian features. However, centuries-old Christian theological anti-Judaism contributed as well, encouraging a widespread antipathy for Jews, so that ideologically and racially motivated anti-Semitism could prevail in this terrible way, and the resistance against the outrageous inhuman brutality did not achieve the breadth and clarity that one should have expected.

Unfortunately, it required the unprecedented crime of the Shoah for a fundamental rethinking to come about. This happened after 1945 in all the mainline churches. On the Catholic side the declaration of Vatican II, Nostra Aetate, was the decisive turning point. It is ― as Benedict XVI made absolutely clear once again during his visit to the Roman synagogue on January 17, 2010 ― irrevocable. It is irreversible because of the plain fact that the decisive theological arguments of the declaration Nostra Aetate are firmly established in two higher-ranking conciliar constitutions, the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church (Nos. 6, 9, 16) and the Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation (Nos. 3, 14).

In the declaration Nostra Aetate two statements are of special importance. Fundamental is the recognition of the Jewish roots of Christianity and its Jewish heritage. Based on these common roots and common heritage, as Pope John Paul said during his visit to the Roman synagogue on April 13, 1986, Judaism is not external but internal to Christianity; Christianity is in a unique relationship with it. This overrode the old anti-Judaism. The second important statement concerns the condemnation of anti-Semitism. In the declaration, the Church deplores "all outbreaks of hatred, persecution, displays of anti-Semitism that have been directed at any time and by anyone against the Jews." Both statements have been explicitly confirmed by Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI several times, particularly during their visits to the Roman synagogue and to Auschwitz, among other occasions.

The council's statement has not remained a dead letter: since then many decisive things have happened in order to translate the declaration into life and into reality. Above all, the visits of Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI to the Roman synagogue and to the Holy Land, and likewise the visits to Rome by high-level Jewish delegations, have eloquently expressed the newly-grown relationship and have strengthened it further. Thus, mutual estrangement has been reduced, and trust, cooperation and friendship have been built. Furthermore, the recognition of the State of Israel by the Holy See and the establishment of formal diplomatic relations 1993 were only possible on the basis of Nostra Aetate.

In 1974, Pope Paul VI established the "Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews” with the task of promoting relations and cooperation with Jews. Through the International Catholic Jewish Liaison Committee (ICJLC) it conducts regular international dialogues with the International Jewish Committee for Interreligious Consultations (IJCIC), a consortium of a number of major Jewish organizations. The Commission has published important documents for the understanding and application of Nostra Aetate (Guidelines and Suggestions for Implementing the Conciliar Declaration Nostra Aetate, 4 (1974) and Notes on the Correct Way to Present Jews and Judaism in Preaching and Catechesis in the Roman Catholic Church (1985), as well as concerning the Shoah (We Remember: A Reflection on the Shoah, 1998). In addition, since 2003 the Commission has conducted in an extremely warm and friendly atmosphere a fruitful dialogue with the Chief Rabbinate in Jerusalem.

Furthermore, in all concerned bishops’ conferences there are committees and dialogues on the national level and fruitful cooperation has grown in theology and in many other areas. "Weeks of Brotherhood," Nostra Aetate anniversaries, etc. seek to keep alive the concern of reconciliation and dialogue with Judaism in a broader public sphere. The documents on just this subject that were published up until the year 2000 fill two thick volumes totaling about 1800 pages.1 It is virtually impossible to keep track of the abundance of publications in book form and in individual articles, as in the form of essay collections. Thus, treatises Pro Judaeis have replaced the old Adversus Judaeos tractates. This all shows that a new and fundamentally different situation has emerged.

It was obvious in these national and international dialogues that coming to grips with the past and the re-establishment of confidence were the first priority. The remembering of what was will remain an important task ─ particularly in the education of young generations ─ as a warning for the future as well. But since the ICJLC meeting in Buenos Aires (2004) on the topic “Tzedeq and Tzedaqah – Justice and Charity,” attention focuses more on our common responsibility for the present and for the future. It is a matter of cooperating in the building of a world in which such terrible events as the Shoah are no longer possible.

Of course, after such a long history of estrangement and in view of the remaining fundamental differences between Judaism and Christianity, it was inevitable that misunderstandings and controversies would arise and continue to arise. They included, among other things, the newly formulated intercession for the extraordinary rite of the Good Friday liturgy, the assessment of the attitude of Pope Pius XII to the Shoah during the Second World War, and the question of the mission to the Jews.

Being in the best interest of both parties, letters and conversations on the official level could relatively rapidly clarify and settle to some extent the occasionally heated controversies because of the confidence that had grown in the meantime. These controversies draw attention again to the differences between Judaism and Christianity that are fundamental for both communities. They transcend the issues of the day and until now have been little treated and processed. This involves such key issues as the Christian confession of Jesus as the Christ (i.e., Messiah) and the Son of God, which is directly related to the Trinitarian understanding of biblical monotheism, the universal salvific significance of Jesus Christ, his death and his resurrection, freedom from the law and much else.

Of course, there can be no question of dissolving the deep-seated differences on these issues in favor of some sort of syncretism, or of relativizing them. Most definitely, this discussion may not involve any covert proselytism. The basis for dialogue must rather be the realization that Jews and Christians differ on these issues and must respect and appreciate each other in their otherness. But precisely for the sake of mutual respect and appreciation, in the newly generated climate of trust it must be a primary goal to actively reduce old misunderstandings and develop possible approaches to understanding each other’s position.

At first, this exploration of core issues should take place between specialists on an academic level and not be part of the official dialogues. An initial commendable attempt, albeit one that was discussed critically from various sides, was made by Jewish scholars with “Dabru Emet: To Speak the Truth” (2000). Subsequently, at the suggestion of the Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews, an informally convened international group of Christian theologians began meeting in 2006; individual Jewish specialists and friends were invited to participate as critical observers. Their work studied the specific question of how to relate the universal saving significance of Jesus Christ to Israel’s ongoing covenantal life with God.

The Commission suggested and encouraged this conversation, and it was kept informed about its progress, although it was not officially engaged itself. To my great joy, the working group can now set forth its results in this volume. These are not the product of an official dialogue but the results of a conversation on the academic level. As in every academic conversation, each author bears the responsibility for his or her own ideas. However, their contributions have arisen from the conversations among these Christian scholars and with Jewish friends and are to be understood in this deliberative context. Their publication now presents an invitation for other interested parties to join in this discussion critically and constructively and to advance it further.

Whoever peruses the contributions collected in this volume will quickly recognize that this conversation is by no means completed. We stand only at the beginning of a new beginning. Many exegetical, historical, and systematic questions are still open, and presumably there will always be such questions. There will also always be different positions on all of these questions. Thus, there is to date no conclusive theory that is more or less generally accepted about the relationship of Judaism and Christianity, if there ever will be.

From my point of view, though, there are already today a few trajectories that can be drawn out, without any claim to comprehensiveness. I confine myself to six points, which I can only present in this context in broad strokes. All six points are developed out of a Christian perspective and are not made with the expectation that our Jewish conversation partners can agree to all of them.

  1. Israel is the divinely chosen and beloved people of the covenant, which was never revoked or terminated (Rom 9:4; 11.29). That is why Israel cannot be collectively described as an accursed people cast off by God. It also cannot be said that the covenant with Israel has been replaced by the New Covenant. The New Covenant for Christians is not the replacement (substitution), but the fulfillment of the Old Covenant. Both stand with each other in a relationship of promise or anticipation and fulfillment. This relationship must be understood in the context of the whole history of the covenant. The whole history of God with his people takes place in a sequence of various covenants with Abraham, Moses, Joshua, Ezra; in the end, the prophet Jeremiah promises a new covenant (Jeremiah 31:31). Each of these covenants takes up the previous covenant and at the same time reinterprets it anew. Thus the New Covenant is the final reinterpretation promised by the prophets of the Old Covenant. It is the definitive yes and amen to all of God's promises (2 Corinthians 1:20), but not their suspension or abolition.

  2. The problem is not only the relationship of the Old and New Covenant, but the different problem of the relationship of post-biblical Rabbinic and Talmudic Judaism―which arose only after the destruction of the Second Temple in the year A.D. 70―with the church. The canons and structures of both formed in parallel. Therefore the New Testament can give us no clear and above all no uniform answer to the question just posed. Paul wrestled with it again and again, but in a sense, the situation was still open in his lifetime. The schism between Judaism and Christianity that continues until today is already clearly discernible in the Fourth Gospel with, on the one hand, the exclusion of Christians from the synagogue (John 9:22; 16:2), and on the other hand, the polemics of the Christians against "the Jews" (John 5:16.18; 7:1, etc.). Nevertheless, the Gospel of John cannot be interpreted to be anti-Jewish in the later sense; it also knows that salvation is from the Jews (John 4:22). Likewise for the Letter to the Hebrews. Although a long-standing reading of Hebrews contends that it declares the Old Covenant to be obsolete and fading away (Heb 8:13), it would be anachronistic to project the distinction between Judaism and Christianity back already into the first century. This letter is written to the Hebrews and not possibly written against the Hebrews. So the text does not seek to devaluate Judaism as such, but questions the value of the Levitical priesthood and its sacrificial rites.

    After the destruction of the Second Temple, a Rabbinic Jewish and a Christian interpretation of the Old Testament developed in parallel and in interaction, both based on their respective religious presuppositions. The document of the Pontifical Biblical Commission, The Jewish People and Their Sacred Scriptures in the Christian Bible (2001), however, explicitly notes that both are possible interpretations of the Old Testament text (§ 22). In this regard, the statement of Nostra Aetate receives its full weight, that the Jews, according to the testimony of the Apostle, "are still beloved of God for their fathers' sake, for his gifts of grace are irrevocable." Even the invitation and the call for dialogue can be fully appreciated only against this background.

  3. If one takes the last statement seriously, then post-biblical Judaism and the church are not two covenant peoples: they are the one covenant people. They do not represent, therefore, two parallel ways of salvation. Rather, God has spoken through Jesus Christ his definitive yes and amen to all the promises of salvation (2 Cor 1:20). From a Christian perspective, the death and resurrection of Christ also mean salvation for the Jews. Between Judaism and Christianity, therefore, is a differentiation that is neither simply a parallel co-existence, nor an opposition. Rather, Paul has shown in his insights concerning salvation-history in Romans 9-11, that the two are dialectically related to each other in their difference. This relationship can hardly be reduced to a formula or a catchy phrase. It is, as Paul says, ultimately a mystery (Rom 11:33-36). If one wishes, one can try to describe this mystery in a similar way to the formula of the Council of Chalcedon (A.D. 451) and define the relationship of both with a double negation: without confusion and without separation.

  4. Perhaps more helpful than a conceptual clarification is the image that Paul uses in the Letter to the Romans for the relationship between Judaism and Christianity. He speaks of the root of Israel into which the wild branches of the Gentiles have been implanted (Rom 11:16-20). This image, going back to the prophet Isaiah (Is 11:1), expresses the sense of distinction within unity in two ways. On the one hand, it is said that the engrafted wild branches have not grown from the rootstock itself and cannot be derived from it. The grafting is something new: it is God's own irreducible act. The church is thus not simply a branch, a fruit or an offshoot of Israel. On the other hand, the church must draw its vigor and strength from the rootstock of Israel. If the engrafted branches are cut off from the root, they become withered, weak and eventually die. Thus, cutting itself off from its Jewish roots for centuries weakened the church, a weakness that became evident in the altogether too feeble resistance against the persecution of Jews.

    But the reverse is also true. Without the engrafted branches the root remains a barren stump. The engrafted branches give the root stock new vitality and fertility. Thus the church has spread universally among the nations the monotheism of Israel and the Ten Commandments as the core of the Mosaic law, and has thereby contributed to the fact that the promise given to Abraham that he would be a blessing to all nations (Gen. 12:3; 18:18, etc.) has come true. Israel without the church is in danger of becoming too particularistic and reclusive, while the church without Israel, as the example of Marcionism makes clear, is in danger of losing its historical grounding and becoming ahistorical and Gnostic. Israel and the churches need each other and therefore are dependent on each other. A true ecumenism without Israel is not possible.

  5. A well thought-out determination of the relationship of Israel and the Church is fundamental to answering the question of Christian mission among the Jews. Every Christian reflection on this delicate subject must proceed from the universal salvific significance of Jesus Christ as well as from the universal mission of the church. This was, of course, natural for Paul, too; this is why on his missionary journeys he went first (Rom 1:16) to the Jews in the synagogue, and only after he met opposition did he then turn to the Gentiles. It is nonetheless true that Jews are not pagans, they do not repent of false and dead idols to turn to the true and living God (1 Th 1:9). This means that command for mission is as valid for Jews as for pagans but it must be put into effect differently among Jews than pagans.

    This difference has not always been observed, and unfortunately there has been a history of forced conversions of Jews. In principle, though, the church takes this difference into account. In contrast to some fundamentalist movements, the Catholic Church sponsors no specific institutional missionary work aimed at Jews. This is more than a mere fact; it is an important ecclesial reality. It should not be ruled out that some Jews, such as Edith Stein, may convert to Jesus Christ just as in reverse there are Christians who turn to the Jewish faith. However, these are personal decisions of conscience, which must be respected by both sides, but from neither side are they a strategic goal.

    According to Paul, "all Israel will be saved" (Rom 11:26 ff). This relates to the Pontifical Biblical Commission’s observation that “Jewish messianic expectation is not in vain” and therefore that at the end of time both Jews and Christians will recognize the “One who is to come,” the eschatological messiah [PBC 2001, §21]. This does not mean that the church and the Christians should behave passively in the meantime and simply sit on their hands. The exclusion of a targeted institutional mission does not prohibit, but rather implies that the Christians and the church are generally required to give Jews witness to their faith in Jesus Christ now. Such Christian witness will be, especially after the Shoah, discreet and humble, must avoid any appearance of triumphalism, and show respect and esteem for the conviction of the Jewish partner. Humility admittedly may not be mistaken for sycophancy or even cowardice. To be a witness (martys),according to the Scriptures is no small thing and should be done with candor.

  6. The common heritage of Jews and Christians includes the joint vocation to a common witness to the one God and his commandments. This includes the unmasking and prophetic criticism of the new false gods and idols of our time, and a shared commitment to human dignity, to justice and peace in the world, to the dignity and worth of the family, and to the integrity of creation. Not least, Jews and Christians can together give witness to the dialogue, cooperation and reconciliation that are possible even after a difficult and complex history. Likewise, they can stand together for teshuvah, i.e. for repentance and reconciliation. Moreover, with the celebration of the Sabbath or Sunday, they perform an indispensable service for the freedom of people: they are showing that in this world there should be a sacred time dedicated to God and that being human should not be reduced to labor, economics, business and pleasure.

    Above all, Jews and Christians look to the future: they give witness together ─ in the midst of the many dilemmas and instances of hopelessness in the world ─ to the hope for the perfect justice and the universal shalom that God alone will usher in at the end of time. Thus they contribute to build a just and humanitarian world in which such a terrible event as the Shoah cannot be repeated. That the dialogue in the not-too-distant future may also help to promote a peace process in the Middle East is, unfortunately, thus far an unrealized wish of all parties.

No one could have foreseen 45 years ago where we are today in the relationship between Jews and Christians. We have advanced further than we could have imagined back then. But today we also see more clearly that the road to each other and with each other is not complete and still has a long way to go. Nostra Aetate is far from being a finished agenda. It is my hope that this volume will both show us where we stand today and also encourage us to continue on the path and to tackle the many questions that are still waiting.


1. See Rolf Rendtorff and Hans Hermann Henrix, eds., Die Kirchen und das Judentum.Volume I: Dokumente von 1945 bis 1985 (Paderborn/Gütersloh: Bonifatius/Gütersloher Verlagshaus, 2001), which contains 746 pp; and Hans Hermann Henrix and Wolfgang Kraus, eds., Die Kirchen und das Judentum.Volume II. Dokumente von 1986 bis 2000 (Paderborn/Gütersloh: Bonifatius/Gütersloher Verlagshaus, 2001), which has 1036 pp.