Kurt Cardinal Koch

Dialogika Resources

The International Dialogue between the Catholic Church and the Jews since Nostra Aetate

"As the sacred synod searches into the mystery of the church, it remembers the bond that spiritually ties the people of the new cov­enant to Abraham's stock."1 With these words begins the fourth article of the Second Vatican Council's declaration on the relationship between the church and the non-Christian religions, Nostra Aetate, which on Oct. 28, 1965, was adopted by the council fathers with 2,221 yes votes against 88 no votes and two abstentions - so virtually with moral unanimity, or more precisely, with the impressive majority of 96 percent -and promulgated by Blessed Pope Paul VI.

With regard to the fourth article, which is devoted to the relationship between the church and Judaism, the council consultant Joseph Ratzinger in his highly esteemed reports at that time during the course of the council rightly evaluated that in relations between the church and Israel "a new page had been turned in the book of their mutual relationship."2

The president of the Secretariat for Christian Unity at that time, the Jesuit Cardinal Augustin Bea, who was responsible to a large extent for editing the conciliar declaration, perceived its fundamental significance in the fact that it was certainly among the subjects "in which so-called public opinion showed the greatest interest," from which he drew the conclusion that "many will judge the council to be good or bad depending on its approval or disapproval of this document."3

These very positive judgements and optimistic assessments of the significance of the conciliar declaration scarcely betray anything of the long and complicated history of the development which the declaration had to undergo before arriving at its promulgation and which it is appropriate to recall now after 50 years in order to better understand its dynamic force at the time and its undiminished actuality today.

This long history began when St. Pope John XXIII, for whom reconciliation with the Jewish people was a heartfelt concern, on Sept. 18, 1960, entrusted into the hands of Cardinal Augustin Bea, first president of the then-Secretariat for the Promotion of Christian Unity, the task of preparing a declaration on the Jewish people.4

The pope could at that time of course scarcely foresee the dimensions this task would subsequently assume and the difficulties that were to accompany the furtherance on this declaration. The problems did not lie so much in the sphere of religion or theology but rather in the less-than-auspicious political situation of the time, which demaded the highest degree of nuance and balance.

That explains the extremely complex textual history of this declaration,5 which, as already mentioned, was initially conceived as an independent document on relations between the church and the Jewish people. Because this text dealt only with Judaism and therefore provoked protest from the Arab side, it was decided to integrate the draft into the broader context of the stance of the church in regard to non-Christian religions in general and to add it to the proposed Decree on Ecumenism as a fourth chapter.

That location makes good sense, insofar as special and deep-reaching connections exist between the church as the chosen people of God of the new covenant and the chosen people of God of the old covenant, and these connections are shared by all Christians; and the first split in the history of Christianity must be perceived in the schism between syngogue and church, which the Catholic theologian Erich Przywara defined as the "primal rift," from which he derived the subsequent progressive loss of wholeness of the catholica.6

It was primarily the council fathers living in the Near East who requested that Islam too should be included in the declaration, and other council fathers suggested dealing with all non-Christian religions in general. On the basis of these objections and because of newly emerging difficulties that made renewed reworking of the text necessary, the council's declaration on the Jewish people ultimately found a place as the fourth article of the Declaration on Non-Christian Religions, which bears the name Nostra Aetate.

Thus the question of the relationship of the Catholic Church to Judaism is considered within the broader context of the presentation of the relationship of the church to the non-Christian religions in general. To a certain extent that involves a compromise, since Judaism is for us Christians not just one among the many non-Christian religions, and the relationship between Judaism and Christianity must not be reduced to just another variant of interreligious dialogue so that its distinctive uniqueness is no longer brought to bear.7

For the church has a unique and distinctive relationship with Judaism that it has with no other religion, and it cannot understand itself without reference to Judaism, as St. Pope John Paul II later expressed it on the occasion of his visit to the Roman synagogue in the vivid and impressive words: "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."8

Against this background of the history of the development of the conciliar declaration, we may rightly evaluate the fourth article dedicated to the relationship of the Catholic Church with Judaism as not only the starting point but also the essential heart of the whole declaration Nostra Aetate.

The great significance of the conciliar declaration Nostra Aetate consists without any doubt in the fact that for the first time in history an ecumenical council had expressed a view in such an explicit and positive manner on the relationship of the Catholic Church to the non-Christian religions in general and to Judaism in particular. Furthermore, the council did not simply engage with purely practical viewpoints but treated the question of Jewish-Christian relations within a theological horizon and on solid biblical foundations.

Nostra Aetate is not a political document but a strictly religious and theological one. It also deserves mention that this new perspective of the relationship between Christianity and Judaism is not simply a secondary question but one that touches on the essential identity of the church itself, which becomes apparent also in the fact that it was also accorded a place in important constitutions of the Second Vatican Council. With regard to the reception history of conciliar documents, one can without doubt dare to assert that Nostra Aetate is to be reckoned among those conciliar texts which have in a convincing manner been able to effect a fundamental reorientation of the Second Vatican Council.

Magna Carta of Jewish-Christian Relations

With this brief insight into the reception history, the theological orientation of the fourth article of Nostra Aetate has become evident. It begins with a biblically grounded reflection on the mystery and the soteriological mission of the church and a reminder of the deep and abiding spiritual bond linking the people of the new covenant with the tribe of Abraham. It explicitly points to the Jewish roots of the Christian faith and affirms in a positive manner the "common spiritual patrimony" of Jews and Christians. It expresses the ardent desire that the reciprocal understanding and the resulting mutual respect of Jews and Christians be fostered.

It repudiates and condemns all outbreaks of hatred, persecutions, slanders and manifestations of force which have been directed against the Jews on the part of so-called Christians. It admonishes that on the part of Christians any denigration, belittling or disdain of Judaism must be avoided and condemns every form of anti-Semitism. The fourth article of Nostra Aetate is rightly considered the foundation document and the Magna Carta of the Jewish­Catholic dialogue, whose fundamental principles are to be further explicated and concretized in the following.9

A Unique and Complex Relationship

That the fourth article of Nostra Aetate marks a fundamental new beginning in the relationship between Christianity and Judaism can be made clear by a brief look back into history. This history proves to be very complex, oscillating between proximity and distance, between familiarity and alienation, between love and hate – and it has been so from the very beginning.

On the one hand Jesus cannot be understood without Israel, the early Christian community quite naturally participated in the Jewish liturgy in the temple and Paul too on his various mission journeys always went to the synagogues first before turning to the gentiles with his proclamation of the Gospel. On the other hand, following the Jewish war and the destruction of the Jerusalem temple in A.D. 70, postbiblical rabbinical Judaism arose, which was to a great extent constituted by a disassociation from expanding Christianity. In reaction to that, Christianity for its part sought its own definitive identity in diassociation from Judaism.

Even though contemporary research tends to accept that the process of estrangement and dissociation between Judaism and Christianity extended over a longer period than previously assumed and surely only gradually took shape during the second century after the destruction of the second temple in A.D. 70, there is nevertheless no question that this process was set in place at the very beginning of Jewish-Christian relations, and the relationship between Jews and Christians was marked by conflicts already at an early stage.

Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger outlined these conflicts in these words: "The church was regarded by her mother as an unnatural daughter, while the Christians regarded the mother as blind and obstinate."10 While this image reminds us that the conflicts between Jews and Christians were still like family quarrels, the relationship between Jews and Christians has deteriorated progressively as the awareness of belonging to the same family was gradually lost. It has therefore in the course of history been exposed to great strain and hostility, which have in many cases unfortunately led to anti-Jewish attitudes involving outbreaks of violence and pogroms against the Jews.

Hostility toward the Jews in European history reached its lowest possible nadir in the mass murder of European Jews, planned and executed with industrial perfection by the National Socialists. The Shoah must be judged as the most horrific expression of that primitive racist anti-Semitism of the Nazi ideology, which had developed already in the 19th century. This thoroughly racist anti-Semitism is of course fundamentally alien to Christianity and was repeatedly sharply condemned by Popes Pius XI and Pius XII above all. The Shoah can and should not however be attributed to Christianity as such: It was in fact led and undertaken by a godless, anti-Christian and neopagan ideology.

If the Shoah must therefore be judged as the horrific nadir of a pagan worldview which intended to annihilate not only Judaism but also the Jewish heritage in Christianity, one can also understand that Pope Benedict XVI, during his visit to the extermination camp Auschvvitz-Birkenau, wished to give expression to this fatal connection: "By destroying Israel, by the Shoah, they ultimately wanted to tear up the taproot of the Christian faith and to replace it with a faith of their own invention: faith in the rule of man, the rule of the powerful."11

When we call to mind this tragic history, we Christians must acknowledge with deep shame that this shared National Socialist hostility should have aroused among us Christians much more empathetic compassion with the Jews than in fact did come into effect. We Christians therefore have every cause to remember our complicity in the horrific developments and above all to confess that Christian resistance to the boundless inhuman brutality of ideologically based National Socialist racism did not display that vigor and clarity which one should by rights have expected.

We Christians must therefore sincerely regret that only the unparalleled crime of the Shoah was able to bring about a genuine rethinking as it found expression on the one hand in the so-called "theology after Auschwitz" in its different variants,12 and on the other hand in the clear repudiation of all manifestations of anti-Semitism in Nostra Aetate "moved not by political reasons but by the Gospel's spiritual love."13

Rediscovery of Christianity's Jewish Roots

Coming to terms with the catastrophe of the Shoah and the battle against anti-Semitism in the Christian sphere formed an important part of the driving force for the drafting of Nostra Aetate as well as the turning point it represents in the relationship of the Catholic Church with Judaism. In the critical questioning of the complicity of Christians it has become increasingly clear that the resistance by Christians against National Socialist anti-Semitism may well have also been so inadequate because a theological Christian anti-Judaism had been in effect for centuries, fostering a widespread anti-Jewish apathy against the Jews.

Thus an ancient anti-Jewish legacy was embedded in the furrows of the souls of not a few Christians.14 Christian anti-Judaism was, while not the cause, an attitudinal prerequisite for the expansion of neopagan anti-Semitism and the lack of resistance of most Christians. This has to be cause enough for confronting this historical debt with self-criticism.

The point of departure for this is the historical fact that a new situation arose in the relationship between the church and Israel after the catastrophe of the destruction of the second temple in the year 70. On the one hand, the Sadducees, who were bound to the temple, did not survive the catastrophe; in contrast the Pharisees developed their particular mode of reading and interpreting the Old Testament during the period without the temple.

On the other hand, the Christians read the Old Testament in the light of the New and saw in it the fulfillment of the Old Testament promises. As a consequence two different ways of reading the Old Testament arose anew after the year 70, namely the Christological exegesis of the Christians and the exegesis developed by rabbinical Judaism. Since the Christian church and postbiblical rabbinical and Talmudic Judaism developed in parallel after the destruction of the temple, the crucial new question arose of precisely how these two modes are related to one another.

This new situation led increasingly to a state of conflict between perpetuating the tradition of the Old Testament and contradicting the Jewish interpretation to the extent that the New Testament was no longer seen simply as the fulfillment of the promises given in the Old Testament but also as its replacement, and as a result Judaism was ultimately stripped of its status as the people of God's covenant and that dignity was claimed exclusively by the church - identifying itself as the new people of the covenant, as the "new Israel."15

This replacement view came into effect historically above all in the post­biblical period. In response to the question to whom the covenant belongs, the Epistle of Barnabas (around A.D. 130) for example gave the unambiguous answer that the Jews have gambled away and lost the covenant because of their sins, so now the Christians were the hereditary people.

In the "Dialogue with Tryphon," Justin Martyr took the next step by setting the new covenant in opposition to the old and declaring Christ to be the new covenant in person, so that the old covenant had reached its end and its goal in Christ Jesus.

Irenaeus of Lyon authoritatively interpreted the relationship between the old and the new covenant in the sense of promise and fulfillment, and consequently postbiblical rabbinical Judaism was viewed as an obsolete religion.

This so-called replacement theory has been influential within the tradition of the Christian church into the most recent past. In view of the catastrophic ramifications of anti-Semitism in the past century and with the critical questioning of an anti-Judaist burden within the Christian tradition, the church considered itself duty-bound to overcome the replacement view and the inheritance theory and to return to the biblical and above all Pauline view of the relationship between Jews and Christians.

With this in mind, Cardinal Augustin Bea formulated as the goal of the council declaration Nostra Aetate "to restore to the consciousness of those who believe in Christ these truths about the Jews that are expounded by the apostle Paul and contained in the patrimony of the faith."16

In order to call to mind that the church has received the revelation of the Old Testament from that people with whom God concluded the old covenant, the declaration Nostra Aetate therefore makes explicit reference to the image of the "good olive tree into which the wild branches of the gentiles have been grafted."17 This vividly expressive image in the 11th chapter of the Epistle to the Romans (Rom 11:16-20) represents for Paul the essential key18 to thinking of the relationship between Israel and the church in the light of faith.

With this image Paul gives expression to a duality with regard to the unity and the difference between Israel and the church: On the one hand the image is to be taken seriously in the sense that the grafted wild branches have not grown out of the root itself and/or sprung from it but represent a new reality and a new work of salvation by God, so that the Christian church cannot merely be understood as a branch or a fruit of Israel. On the other hand, the image is also to be taken seriously in the sense that the church is only able to live when it draws nourishment and strength from the root of Israel, and that the grafted branches would wither or even die if they were cut off from the root of Israel. Speaking literally rather than metaphorically, this means that Israel and the church are related to and interdependent on one another, precisely because they exist in a state not only of unity but also of difference. Israel and the church thus are and remain to that extent bound up with one another and indeed both unmixed yet undivided.

Theological Reflection on the "Common Spiritual Patrimony"

Unity and difference between Judaism and Christianity come to the fore above all in the question of how the old and the new covenants stand in relation to one another. For the Christian faith, it is axiomatic that there can only be one covenant history of God with his humanity. This faith conviction is also found in the Old Testament and is already evident in the fact that the history of God with his people has been realized in a series of covenants, whereby each of these covenants incorporates the previous covenants and interprets them in a new way. That is also true for the new covenant which God sealed in Jesus Christ and is for us Christians the final covenant and therefore the definitive interpretation of what was promised by the prophets of the old covenant, or as Paul expresses it, the yes and Amen to "all that God has promised" (2 Cor 1:20). The new covenant is therefore neither the annulment nor the replacement of the old covenant, as Cardinal Walter Kasper has correctly stressed:

"The new covenant for Christians is not the replacement but the fulfillment of the old covenant. Both stand with each other in a relationship of promise or anticipation and fulfillment."19

A clear distinction must be drawn between fulfillment and replacement, and any idea of replacement must be excluded.

This view of the relationship between the old and the new covenants also has consequences for unity and difference with regard to the testimonies of divine revelation. Because Israel is the beloved people of his covenant which has never been revoked or repudiated, Israel's book of the covenant, the Old Testament, is part of the lasting heritage of the Christian church. With the existence of the Old Testament as an integral part of the one Christian Bible, there is a deeply rooted belonging and intrinsic kinship between Judaism and Christianity.

With the existence of the New Testament, the question naturally arose quite soon of how the two testaments are related to one another. There also emerged the dangerous idea that the New Testament had superseded the Old Testament book of promises in the context of salvation history, rendering it obsolete through the glow of the new, in the same way that moonlight is not needed once the sun has risen.

A similar stark antithesis between the Hebrew and the Christian Bibles, which was supported above all by Marcion in the second century, fortunately never become an official doctrine of the Christian church. Marcion's refutation of the Old Testament met with the strong opposition of the postapostolic church, and he was excluded from the Christian congregation in 144. The significance of this verdict of the early church against Marcionism can hardly be overestimated in the context of the relationship between the church and Judaism.

This is of course only one side of the relationship between the two testaments. The common patrimony of the Old Testament however not only formed the fundamental basis of a spiritual kinship between Jews and Christians but also brought with it an elementary tension in the relationship of the two faith communities: This is demonstrated by the fact that Christians read the Old Testament in the light of the New, in the conviction expressed by Augustine in the indelible formula: "In the Old Testament the New is concealed and in the New the Old is revealed ."20

Pope Gregory the Great also spoke in the same sense when he defined the Old Testament as "the prophecy of the New" and the latter as the "best exposition of the Old."21

With that we return to the starting point of this line of thought, in which we have established that after the destruction of the temple, two ways of reading and interpreting the Old Testament developed, and we can in conclusion formulate as a consequence the finding that the Pontifical Biblical Commission, expressed in its 2001 document "The Jewish People and Their Sacred Scriptures in the Christian Bible," that Christians can and must admit "that the Jewish reading of the Bible is a possible one, in continuity with the Jewish Scriptures of the second temple period, analogous to the Christian reading which developed in parallel fashion"; it then draws the conclusion: "Both readings are bound up with the vision of their respective faiths, of which the readings are the result and expression. Consequently, both are irreducible."22

The Good Reception of Nostra Aetate

With this theological reflection on the content of Nostra Aetate we have already opened up the prospect of the reception history of this conciliar declaration. Our attention is directed above all to the way the promising perspectives founded by Nostra Aetate have been affirmed and deepened in a variety of ways by the popes after the Second Vatican Council.

It must of course not be forgotten that at the inception of Nostra Aetate stands St. Pope John XXIII, who already during his diplomatic service as apostolic delegate in Turkey (1935-1944) had personal experience of the tragic fate of the Jews during the period of the reign of terror of the Third Reich and saved the lives of thousands of Jews from extermination in the National Socialist persecution.

The actual impetus for the preparation of a specific document on the Jews may well have been a meeting of John XXIII on June 13, 1960, with the Jewish historian Jules Isaac, who presented the pope with a memorandum with urgent requests for a new view of the relationship of the church with Judaism.23

The endeavor initiated by John XXIII to establish the relationship of the Catholic Church to Judaism on a new foundation could of course only be taken up and carried on by Blessed Pope Paul VI. His great achievement consists in rigorously implementing the new direction introduced by John XXIII, adding theological depth and providing it with new accents.24

Even before the promulgation of Nostra Aetate, Pope Paul felt that the time was ripe for undertaking a visit to the Holy Land. The actual occasion for this trip in 1964 was in fact a meeting between the pope and the Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras of Constantinople. But just as this meeting in Jerusalem became a catalyst for Orthodox-Catholic relations and in a certain sense even for Christian ecumenism as a whole,25 this journey to Israel by Paul VI also led to new and promising developments in the relationship of the Catholic Church to Judaism. This became apparent above all in the meeting with the authorities of the state of Israel, when the pope addressed the Jews with the beautiful term "sons of the people of the covenant," with the intention of expressing the fact that the Jews of today too belong to this people of the covenant and that God's covenant with this people continues to exist.

Paul VI recalled furthermore the biblical tribal fathers Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in order to emphasize the common roots of the faith. One can without doubt assess his visit to the Holy Land as "a milestone on the path toward a changed relationship of the Catholic Church to Judaism"26 and judge that there is a logical development leading from it to the religious and theological stance which the council later formulated in Nostra Aetate.

Besides this and other authoritative statements on Jewish-Catholic dialogue, Paul VI also accorded a significant status to direct encounters with representatives of Judaism, which were always characterized by a warm tone, indicating the great interest and high esteem that Paul VI constantly evinced toward Judaism. It is therefore not surprising that in a Jewish obituary at his death we find the following tribute, "The Jewish people throughout the world will always remember the years of Pope Paul's reign as the commencement of a new age for Catholic-Jewish relations."27

Further steps in the reconciliation with Judaism were taken by St. Pope John Paul II,28 whose passionate endeavors for Jewish-Christian dialogue surely have their roots initially in his personal biography. He grew up in the small Polish town of Wadowice, which consisted of at least one-quarter of Jewish fellow citizens, to the extent that friendships with Jews were taken for granted already in his childhood. During his long pontificate, it was for him an important concern to intensify the bonds of friendship with Judaism. He therefore repeatedly received Jewish personalities and groups, and during his numerous pastoral journeys his obligatory program always included an encounter with a local Jewish delegation wherever there was a sizable Jevvish community.

For the public his passionate engagement for Jewish-Catholic dialogue was visible above all in grand public gestures, among which the following deserve special mention. Already in the first year of his pontificate on June 7, 1979, he visited the former concentration camp of Auschwitz-Birkenau, where in front of the memorial stone with its Hebrew inscription he recalled the victims of the Shoah in a particular manner with moving words: "It is not permissible for anyone to pass by this inscription with indifference."29

A second abiding memory is the visit by Pope John Paul II to the Roman synagogue on April 13, 1986, which is also accorded special significance because there was a Jewish community in Rome long before the Christian faith was brought to Rome. The historical significance of this event however is based above all on the fact that it was the first time in history that the bishop of Rome visited a synagogue to bear testimony to his respect for Judaism before the whole world.

A third indelible memory is the public liturgy on March 12 in the Holy Year 2000 during which the pope prayed for forgiveness of guilt toward the people of Israel in the compelling words: "We are deeply saddened by the behavior of those who in the course of history have caused these children of yours to suffer, and asking your forgiveness, we wish to commit ourselves to genuine brotherhood with the people of the covenant."30 In a slightly altered form Pope John Paul II inserted this prayer for forgiveness as a written petition between the stones of the Western Wall in Jerusalem during his visit to the Holy Land, during which he also visited the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial, commemorated the victims of the Shoah, met with survivors of this incomparable tragedy and entered into contact for the first time with the Chief Rabbinate of Jerusalem. In retrospect one can with gratitude reflect that John Paul II, with his great commitment for the Catholic-Jewish dialogue during his long pontificate, set the course for the future of this necessary conversation.

The many endeavors of Pope John Paul II were theologically legitimated and supported by the then-prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who himself published groundbreaking articles on the specific relationship of Christianity to Judaism within the context of world religions.31 Against the background of these theological convictions, it cannot surprise us that Pope Benedict XVI carried on and progressed the conciliatory work of his predecessor with regard to the Jewish-Catholic conversation.

During the almost eight years of his pontificate he took all those steps which Pope John Paul II took in his 27-year pontificate: Pope Benedict XVI visited the former concentration camp Auschwitz-Birkenau on May 28, 2006.32 During his visit to Israel in May 2009 he too stood before the Western Wall in Jerusalem and also prayed at Yad Vashem for the victims of the Shoah, where he deliberately referred to the name of this place and meditated on the God-given inalienability of the name of each individual person:

"One can weave an insidious web of lies to convince others that certain groups are undeserving of respect. Yet try as one might, one can never take away the name of a fellow human being."33

On Jan. 17, 2010, Pope Benedict was armly received by the Jewish community in Rome in their synagogue, where he presented an inimitable spiritual editation on the Decalogue, which he acknowledged as the "pole star of faith and of the morality of the people of God."34 With his spiritual profundity and through the unique power of his words, Pope Benedict XVI illuminated the multifaceted riches of the common spiritual heritage of Judaism and Christianity and added theological depth to the guidelines set down by the declaration Nostra Aetate.

Jewish-Catholic dialogue today continues its positive progress with Pope Francis, who already as archbishop of Buenos Aires fostered close contacts with the Jewish community and above all with Rabbi Abraham Skorka and continues to do so as pope.35

As was evident at the inauguration of his pontificate in the presence of prominent Jewish representatives from the USA, Israel, Argentina and the Jewish community in Rome, it is for Pope Francis an important concern to intensify and deepen the bond of friendship between Jews and Catholics. Again and again he receives Jewish personalities and groups in audience and gives them the firm reassurance that it is impossible to be both a Christian and an anti­ Semite.

The climax of his endeavors so far is without doubt the visit to the Holy Land in May 2014 and his meeting with the two chief rabbis, his prayer at the Western Wall, his embrace of a Jewish and a Muslim friend and the thought­provoking meditation at Yad Vashem, where he prayed for the grace "to be ashamed of what we as human beings were capable of."

Open Theological Questions and Mutual Service in the Faith

For the popes following the Second Vatican Council, it has been an important concern that those perspectives laid down in Nostra Aetate be received and carried further by the whole church. Despite all these great achievements the theological questions raised by the relationship between Christianity and Judaism have by no means all been resolved. That a good deal more effort in theological reflection is required is also affirmed by the project published a few years ago, Christ Jesus and the Jewish People Today: New Explorations of Theological Interrelationships, produced as an initiative of the Holy See's Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews by an informally convoked international group of Christian theologians, to which individual Jewish experts and friends were invited to participate as critical observers.36

No matter how worthwhile this Jewish-Christian conversation may have been, Cardinal Walter Kasper states realistically in his preface that even this conversation has in no way arrived at a conclusion: "We are only standing at the threshold of a new beginning. Many exegetical, historical and systematic questions are still open, and there will presumably always be such questions."37

Among rabbis today voices are increasingly heard who consider that the time is ripe in Jewish-Christian dialogue for deepening the theological questions, and must have as its focus the highly complex theological question how the Christian faith conviction that we share with the Jews that the covenant God concluded with Israel has never been revoked but remains valid on the basis of God's unfailing faithfulness to his people can theologically be conceptually combined with the Christian faith conviction of the novelty of the new covenant granted to us in Christ so coherently that the intrinsic unity between the Old and the New Testament is maintained and both Jews and Christians do not feel hurt but see that their faith convictions are taken seriously.38

This is after all not simply an academic question but always involves the earnest and existential question of the salvation of mankind, so great care is required. On the one hand, the Christian faith stands or falls by the confession that God wants to lead all people to salvation, that he follows this path in Jesus Christ as the universal mediator of salvation and that there is no "other name under heaven given to the human race by which we are to be saved" (Acts 4:12). However, on the other hand, this Christian confession in no way permits the conclusion that the Jews are excluded from God's salvation because they do not believe in Jesus Christ as the Messiah of Israel and the Son of God. Such a claim would find no support in the soteriological understanding of St. Paul.

In the Letter to the Romans he gives expression to his conviction that there can be no hiatus in the history of salvation, but that salvation comes from the Jews, and he clearly proceeds that God from the "time of the gentiles" had entrusted Israel with a specific individual mission. Paul therefore definitively negates the question he himself has posed, whether God has repudiated his own people and decidedly states, "For the grace and call that God grants are irrevocable" (Rom 11:29).

That the Jews are participants in God's salvation is theologically unquestionable, but how that can be possible without confessing Christ explicitly is and remains an unfathomable divine mystery. It is therefore no accident that Paul's soteriological reflections in Romans 9-11 on the irrevocable redemption of Israel against the background of the Christ mystery culminate in a mysterious doxology:

"Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How inscrutable are his judgments and how unsearchable his ways" (Rom 11:33).

This cautious response at the same time reveals the insight that the most elementary difference between Judaism and Christianity is nevertheless evident with regard to the question of the salvation of mankind. For the fundamental critique by the Jews of the Christian confession of Christ and of Christianity as a whole insists that the world remains unreconciled and the kingdom of God has not yet arrived in our world.

Judaism is and remains precisely there where it remains true to its divine calling, a thorn in the flesh of Christianity, because it incisively calls to mind the unredeemed state of the world, as Franz Rosenzweig has stated, "This existence of the Jews compels upon Christianity at all times the insight that it never reaches its goal, never arrives at the truth but constantly remains on the way."39

The same thorn was given expression by Schalom Ben-Chorin in the words, "The Jew is profoundly aware of the unredeemed character of the world, and he perceives and recognizes no enclave of redemption in the midst of its unredeemedness."40 In the same sense Martin Buber has profiled the abiding difference with Christianity in this way:

"The church rests on its faith that the Christ has come and that this is the redemption that God has bestowed on mankind. We, Israelis, are not able to believe that."41

With that he has indeed named the particularity of Christianity, which on the basis of the Christ event is convinced that in Jesus Christ the love of God is nevertheless already present in the midst of the unreconciled and unredeemed world: "The particularity of Christianity consists in the belief in the reconciliation of the otherwise unreconciled world in Jesus Christ and in the presence of his Spirit."42

Since Christianity in faithfulness to its divine mission witnesses to the presence of the love and reconciliation of God in the midst of the suffering, groaning and unreconciled world and perceives in the cross of Jesus Christ itself the "permanent day of atonement of God,"43 it is also a thorn in the flesh of Judaism.

If Judaism and Christianity remain faithful to their convictions and in so doing mutually respect and challenge one another, they can mutually do one another this service in faith. In this mutual service of faith with one another, Judaism and Christianity, synagogue and church, remain indissolubly interlinked with one another whenever Jews and Christians draw upon that "common spiritual patrimony" that Nostra Aetate called to mind. In that sense this path-breaking declaration of the Second Vatican Council is and remains the compass of reconciliation between Jews and Christians today and into the future.


  1. Nostra Aetate, 4.
  2. J. Hatzinger, Die letzte Sitzungsperiodedes Konzils [Köln 1966), 68.
  3. Relatio von Augustin Kardinal Bea über die "Erklärung Uber die Juden und Nichtchristen," gehalten in der Konzilsaula Sept. 25, 1964, in: A. Kardinal Bea, Die Kirche und das jüdische Volk [Freiburg i. Br. 1966), 148-157, zit. 148.
  4. Cf. D. Recker, Die Wegbereiter der Judenerklärung des Zweiten Vatikanischen Konzils. Johannes XXIII, Kardinal Bea und Prälat Oesterreicher - eine Darstellung ihrer theologischen Entwicklung (Paderborn 2007).
  5. Cf. J. Oesterreicher, Kommentierende Einleitung zur "Erklärung über das Verhältnis der Kirche zu den nichtchristlichen Re!igionen," in: Lexikon für Theologie und Kirche. Band 13 (Freiburg i. Br. 1967). 406-478.
  6. E. Przywara, Römische Katholizität—All-christliche Ökumenizität, in: J.B. Metz u. a. [Hrsg.), Gott in Welt. Festgabe für K. Rahner [Freiburg i. Br. 1964) 524-528, zit. 526.
  7. Cf. J. Kardinal Ratzinger, Der Dialog der Religionen und das Jüdisch-christliche Verhältnis, in: Ders., Die Vielfalt der Religionen und der Eine Bund (Hagen 1998). 93-121.
  8. John Paul II, April 13, 1986, synagogue address during a meeting wilh the Jewish community of Rome, in: Insegnamenti di Giovanni Paolo II, IX, I, 1986 (Città del Vaticano 1986), 1024-1031, cit. 1027.
  9. Cf. H.H. Henrix, Nostra aetate und die christlich-jüdischen Beziehungen, in: D. Ansorge (Hrsg.), Das Zweite Vatikanische Konzil. Impulse und Perspektiven (Münster 2014), 228-245; N. Lamdan, A. Melloni (eds.), Nostra aetate: Origins, Promulgation, Impact on Jewish-Catholic Relations (Berlin 2007); J.-H. Tuck, Das Konzil und die Juden. Nostra aetate—Bruch mit dem Antijudaismus und Durchbruch zur theologisch­en Würdigung des nachbiblischen Bundesvolkes, in: G. Augustin und M.Schulze [Hrsg.), Freude an Gott. Auf dem Weg zu einem lebendigen Glauben. Festschrift für Kurt Kardinal Koch zum 65. Geburtstag. Zweiter Teilband (Freiburg i. Br. 2015). 857-893, zit. 880.
  10. J. Kardinal Ratzinger, Das Erbe Abrahams, in: Ders., Weggemeinschaft des Glaubens. Kirche als Communio (Augsburg 2002), 235-238, zit. 237.
  11. Benedict XVI, remarks May 28, 2006, visiting the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp in: Insegnamenti di Benedetto XVI, II, I, 2006 [Città del Vaticano 2007), 724·729.
  12. Cf. E. Kogon /J.B. Metz, Gott nach Auschwitz. Dimensionen des Massenmords am jüdischen Volk (Freiburg i. Br. 1979).
  13. Nostra Aetate, 4.
  14. Cf. Judaisme, anti-judaisme et christianisme. Colloque de l'Universitré de Fribourg [Saint-Maurice 2000).
  15. Cf. K. Backhaus, Das Bundesmotiv in der frühkirchlichen Schwellenzeit, in; H. Frankemölle [Hrsg.), Der ungekündigte Bund (Freiburg i. Br. 1998), 211-231.
  16. Relatio von Augustin Kardinal Bea über "Die Haltung der Katholiken zu den Nichtchristen und hauptsächlich zu den Juden," gehalten in der Konzilsaula am Nov. 19, 1963, in: A. Kardinal Bea, Die Kirche und das jüdische Volk (Freiburg i. Br. 1966) 141-147, zit. 144.
  17. Nostra Aetate, 4.
  18. Cf. F. Mussner, Die Kraft der Wurzel. Judentum - Jesus - Kirche (Freiburg i. Br. 1987).
  19. W. Cardinal Kasper, Foreword, in: Ph. A. Cunningham u.a.(ed.), Christ Jesus and the Jewish People Today. New Explorations of Theological Interrelationships (Michigan 2011) X-XVIII, cit. XIV.
  20. Augustinus, Quaestiones in Heptateuchum, 2, 73.
  21. Gregory the Great, Homiliae in Ezechielem I, VI, 15.
  22. Published in German as Nr. 152 Sekretariat der Deutschen Bischofskonferenz. "Verlautbarungen des Apostolischen Stuhls" (Bonn 2001), Nr. 22.
  23. Cf. M. Quisinsky, Art. Isaac, Jules, in: Ders. P. Walter (Hrsg.), Personenlexikon zum Zweiten Vatikanischen Konzil (Freiburg i. Br. 2012), 139-140.
  24. Cf. J. Ernesti, Paul VI. Der vergessene Papst (Freibmg i. Br. 2012), bes. 91-106: Das Verhältnis zum Judentum.
  25. Cf. Metropolite Emmanuel/Cardinal K. Koch, L'esprit de Jérusalem. L'orthodoxie et le catholicisme au XXIeme siècle (Paris 2014).
  26. Th. Brechenmacher. Der Vatikan und die Juden. Geschichte einer unheiligen Beziehung (München 2005), 245.
  27. Zitiert in: Freiburger Rundbrief 28 (1978) 93.
  28. Cf. Giovanni Paolo II-Benedetto XVI, Ebrei, fratelli maggiori. La necessità del dialogo fra cattolicesimo ed ebraismo nei discorsi di Papa Wojtyla e di Papa Ratzinger. A cura di Santino Spartà (Roma 2007); E. J. Fisher and L. Klenicki (eds.), The Saint for Shalom. How Pope John Paul II Transformed Carholic-Jewish Relations. The Complete Texts 1979-2005 (New York 2011).
  29. John Paul II, remarks June 7, 1979, at the Brzezinka concentration camp in: Insegnamenti di Giovanni Paolo II, II 1979 (Gennaio-Giugno) (Città del Vaticano 1979), 1482-1487, cit. 1484.
  30. John Paul II, homily March 12, 2000, Great Jubilee Day of Pardon, in: Insegnamenti di Giovanni Paolo II XXIII, 1 2000 (Città del Vaticano 2002), 351-355.
  31. J. Kardinal Ratzinger, Die Vielfalt der Religionen un der Eine Bund (Hagen 1998). 
  32. Cf. J.-H. Tück, Wo war Gott? Der deutsche Papst in Auschwitz—eine theologische Nachbetrachtung, in: Ders. (Hrsg.), Der Theolagenpapst. Eine kritische Würdigung Benedikts XVI. (Freiburg i. Br. 2013), 122- 134.
  33. Benedict XVI, remarks during May 11, 2009, visit to the Yad Vashem memorial, in: Insegnamenti di Benedetto XVI. V, I 2009 (Città del Vaticano 2010) 787-789, cit. 787.
  34. Benedict XVI, remarks during Jan. 17, 2010, meet­ing with the Jewish community of Rome, in: Insegnamenti di Benedetto XVI, VI, I (Città del Vaticano 2011) 86-92, cit. 90.
  35. Cf. J .Bergoglio (Papst Franziskus)/A. Skorka, Über Himmel und Erde. Jorge Bergoglio im Gespräch mit dem Rabbiner Abraham Skorka (München 2013).
  36. P.A. Cunningham, J. Sievers, M.C. Boys. H.H. Hendrix & J. Svartvik (eds.), Christ Jesus and the Jewish People Today. New Explorations of Theological Interrelationships (Cambridge 2011).
  37. Ibid XIV. For the German version of this foreword cf. W. Kardinal Kasper, Juden und Christen—Das eine Volk Gottes, in: Communio. Internationale katholische Zeitschrift 30 (2010), 418-427.
  38. Cf. the nuanced study by Th. Söding, Erwählung-Verstockung-Erretung. Zur Dialektik der pau­linischen Israeltheologie in Röm 9-11, in: Communio. lntemationale katholische Zeitschrift 39 (2010). 382-417.
  39. F. Rosenzweig, Der Stern der Erlösung III, 197.
  40. Sch. Ben Chorin, Die Antwort des Jona. Zum Gestaltwandel Israels (Hamburg 1956), 99.
  41. M. Buber, Der Jude und sein Judentum [Köln 1963), 562.
  42. W. Pannenberg, Das Besondere des Christentums, in: P. Lapide/W. Pannenberg, Judentum und Christentum. Einheit und Unterschied. Ein Gespräch (München 1981), 19-31, zit. 29-30. 
  43. J. Kardinal Ratzinger, Israel, die Kirche und die Welt. Ihre Beziehung und ihr Auftrag nach dem "Katechismus der Katholischen Kirche" von 1992, in: Ders., Die Vielfalt der Religionen und der Eine Bund (Hagen 1998), 17-45, zit. 43.