Pope Benedict XVI

Dialogika Resources

Many Religions, One Covenant (excerpts)

Listed below are notable quotations pertinent to Catholic-Jewish relations taken from a short collection of essays and addresses delivered by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger in the 1990s. These essays were collected and published in 1999 by Ignatius Press in a volume entitled Many Religions — One Covenant: Israel, the Church, and the World, translated by Graham Harrison. Other than some elisions for the sake of clarifty, all quotations are as they appear in the Harrison translation, including italics and gender exclusive language. The numbers in square brackets are book page numbers. Readers seeking a fuller understanding should consult the entire original text since many reflections could not be easily abstracted. It should be noted that Cardinal Ratzinger saw these writings as provisional and tentative, prevented by space limitations from dealing comprehensively with all the relevant issues.

From the preface:

In my present situation it is impossible for me to develop systematic theological ideas [on the inner unity-in-diversity of the Old and New Testaments]; nonetheless, as I see more and more clearly in retrospect, the requests that reach me, asking me to participate in the dialogue, reflect the actual priorities of the ecclesiological and theological situation. The four chapters of this little book arose from just such concrete occasions. I need hardly say that they are no more than slight and tentative approaches to the great topic; however, fragmentary as they are, they can perhaps promote the questioning process. I myself would not have had the temerity to put them together into a book; but I did not want to reject the invitation to do so .... My hope is that this tiny opus, with all its limitations, can help us to a better understanding of the message that the one Bible addressed to us. Rome, Advent, 1997 [19-20]

From an essay on the treatment of the relation between the Church and Israel in the Catechism of the Catholic Church:

The mission of Jesus consists in bringing together the histories of the nations in the community of the history of Abraham, the history of Israel. His mission is unification, reconciliation, as the Letter to the Ephesians (2:18-22) will then present it. The history of Israel should become the history of all, Abraham's sonship is to be extended to the "many". This course of events has two aspects to it: the nations can enter into the community of the promises of Israel in entering into the community of the one God, who now becomes and must become the way of all because there is only one God and because his will is therefore truth for all. Conversely, this means that all nations, without the abolishment of the special mission of Israel, become brothers and receivers of the promises of the Chosen People; they become People of God with Israel through adherence to the will of God and through acceptance of the Davidic kingdom. [27-28]

Jews and Christians must bear witness to the one God, to the Creator of heaven and earth, and do this in that entirety which Psalm 19 formulates in an exemplary way: the light of the physical creation, the sun, and the spiritual light, the commandment of God, belong inextricably together. [34-35]

... Jews and Christians should accept each other in profound inner reconciliation, neither in disregard of their faith nor in denying it, but out of the depth of faith itself. In their mutual reconciliation they should become a force for peace in and for the world. Through their witness to the one God, who cannot be adored apart from the unity of love of God and neighbor, they should open the door into the world for this God so that his will may be done and so that it may become on earth "as it is in heaven": so that "his kingdom come".

From an essay on the theology of Covenant in the New Testament:

The strict antithesis between the two Covenants, the Old and the New, that Paul develops in 2 Corinthians 3 has fundamentally marked Christian thought ever since [Paul's time], whereas the subtle interplay between "the letter" and "the spirit" – expressed in the image of the "veil" – has hardly been noticed. Most important, it has largely been forgotten that other Pauline texts portray the drama of God's history with men in a much more nuanced way. .... the image of the removal of the veil indicates a modification of the idea of the Law's transitory nature: when the veil is removed from the heart, what is substantial and ultimate about the Law comes into focus. This the Law itself becomes Spirit, identical with the new order of life of the Spirit. [54]

God's pedagogy with mankind operates in such a way that its individual props are jettisoned when the goal of the educational process is reached. Particular paths are abandoned, but the meaning remains. The covenant with Moses is incorporated into the covenant with Abraham, and the Law becomes the mediator ofpromise. Thus Pual distinguishes very sharply between two kinds of covenant that we find in the Old Testament itself: the covenant that consists of legal prescriptions and the covenant that is essentially a promise, the gift of friendship, bestowed without conditions.[Weinfeld, "Berit", 799f.]

In the Pentateuch, in fact, the word berith is often equivalent to "law" and "commandment". A berith is something that is commanded; the Sinai covenant in Exodus 24 appears essentially as "the imposition of laws and obligations on the people" [citing Weinfeld, "Berit", 799f.] This kind of covenant can also be broken; Israel's history in the Old Testament continually appears to be a history of the broken covenant.

By contrast, the covenant with the Patriarchs is regarded as eternally in force. Whereas the covenant imposing obligations is patterned on the vassal contract, the covenant of promise has the royal grant as its model. [Ibid, 784]. To that extent Paul, with his distinction between the covenant with Abraham and the covenant with Moses, has rightly interpreted the biblical text.This distinction, however, also supersedes the strict opposites of the Old and the New Covenant and implies that all history is a unity in tension: the one Covenant is realized inthe plurality of covenants.

If this is so, there can be no question of setting the Old and the New Testaments against each other as two different religions; there is only one will of God for me, one one historical activity of God with and for men, though this activity employs interventions that are diverse and even in part contradictory – yet in truth they belong together. [55-57]

The citiations of Weinfeld in the above quotation refer to M. Weinfeld, "Berit", in G. Johannes Botterweck and Helmer. Ringgren, eds., Theologisches Wörterbuch zum Alten Testament (Stuttgart: W. Kohlhammer,1973), I: 781-808.

[T]he God of the Bible is a God-in-relationship; and to that extent, in the essence of his identity, he is opposed to the self-enclosed God of philosophy .... When we say that man is the image of God, it means that he is a being designed for relationship; it means that, in and through all his relationships, he seeks that relation which is the ground of his existence. In this context, covenant would be the response of man's imaging of God; it would show us who we are and who God is. And for God, since he is entirely relationship, covenant would not be something external in history, apart from his being, but the manifestation of his self, the "radiance and the countenance." [75,76-77]

From an essay on interreligious relations and dialogue:

[I]t was inevitable that Christians would begin to take notice of the actual religious message of the world religions. After all, the gospel was not being proclaimed to religion-less people who had no knowledge of God. It was no longer possible to overlook the fact that Christians were addressing a world deeply penetrated by religious convictions and stamped by these convictions even in the tiniest details of daily life, so that the religiosity of these people put to shame the somewhat tired faith of Christians. It was less and less sufficient, therefore, to describe the adherents of other religions simply as pagans, or purely negatively as "non-Christians". It was necessary to get to know what they were; one had to ask also whether is was right simply to destroy their religious world, or whether it was perhaps possible, or even an obligation, to understand them from within and bring into Christianity the inheritance that was theirs. [92]

Israel may find it impossible to see Jesus as the Son of God as Christians do; but it is not impossible for them to see him as the Servant of God who carries the light of his God to the nations. Conversely, even if Christians look for day when Israel will recognize Christ as the Son of God and the rift that separates them will be healed, they should also acknowledge God's providence, which has obviously given Israel a particular mission in this "time of the Gentiles". The Fathers say that the Jews, to whom Holy Scripture was first entrusted, must remain alongside us as a witness to the world. But what does this witness say? This brings us to my second argument. I think we can say that two things are essential to the faith of Israel. First of all there is the Torah, the commitment to God's will and the establishment of his rule, his kingdom in this world. Secondly, there is the hope, the expectation of the Messiah; the expectation, even the certainty, that God himself will step into this history and create justice – for the forms of justice we ourselves set up are very imperfect. [104-105]

Christ, for the Christian, is Sinai present here and now, the living Torah, who imposes duties upon us and challenges us to obedience, at the same time drawing us into the broad arena of love and its inexhaustible possibilities. ... It follows, therefore, that the figure of Christ both links and separates Israel and the Church. It is not within our power to overcome this separation, but it keeps us both on the path that leads to the One who comes. To that extent the relationship between us must not be one of enmity. [106]

Let us speak plainly. Anyone who expects the dialogue between religions to result in their unification is bound for disappointment. This is hardly possible within our historical time, and perhaps it is not even desirable. [109]

[I]f I must always look for what is positive in the other's beliefs – and in this way he becomes a help to me in searching for the truth – the critical element can and may not be missing; in fact, it is needed. Religion contains the precious pearl of truth, so to speak, but it is always hiding it, and it is continually in danger of losing sight of its own essence. Religion can fall sick, it can become something destructive. It can and should lead us to truth, but it can also cut men off from truth. The criticism of religion found in the Old Testament is still very relevant today. We may find it relatively easy to criticize the religion of others, but we must be ready to accept criticism of ourselves and of our own religion. [111]

[M]ission and dialogue should no longer be opposites but should mutually interpenetrate. Dialogue is not aimless conversation: it aims at conviction, at finding the truth; otherwise it is worthless. Conversely, missionary activity in the future cannot proceed as if it were simply a case of communicating to someone who has no knowledge at all of God what he has to believe. .... [I]n the world of religions we meet people who have heard of God through their religion and try to live in relationship with him. In this way, the proclamation of the gospel must be necessarily a dialogical process. We are not telling the other person something that is entirely unknown to him; rather, we are opening up the hidden depth of something with which, in his own religion, he is already in touch. The reverse is also the case: the one who proclaims is not only the giver; he is also the receiver. In this sense ... the dialogue of religions should become more and more a listening to the Logos, who is pointing out to us, in the midst of our separation and our contradictory affirmations, the unity we already share. [112-113]