Emeritus Pope Benedict

Reply to Rabbi Arie Folger

[unofficial translation]


Vatican City
August 23, 2018

Mr. Rabbi Arie Folger, MBA
Chief Rabbi
Israelite Religious Community of Vienna




Dear Mr. Rabbi Folger!

Professor Tück from the University of Vienna has sent me your contribution "Danger for the Dialogue," and I can only thank you very much for this important further input.

You first explained the genre of my text. It is a document about the theological disagreement between Jews and Christians on the correct understanding of God's promises to Israel: Christianity exists only because after the destruction of the temple and following the life and death of Jesus of Nazareth, a community formed around Jesus that was convinced that the Hebrew Bible as a whole should be enacted and interpreted through Jesus. But this conviction was not shared by the majority of the Jewish people. Thus, the dispute originated over whether one or the other interpretation was correct. Unfortunately, this dispute has often or almost always not been conducted by Christians with due respect for the other side. Instead, the sad history of Christian anti-Judaism has unfolded, which ultimately leads to the anti-Christianity and anti-Judaism of the Nazis and stands before us with Auschwitz as its sad climax. 

In the meantime, it is important that the dialogue on the correct interpretation of the Bible of the Jewish people be continued between the two communities whose faith is based on this interpretation. An important methodological basis for this dialogue is the document of the Pontifical Biblical Commission, "The Jewish People and Their Sacred Scriptures in the Christian Bible" of May 24, 2001, which I take for granted in my statements as a methodological basis. As far as humans can foresee, this dialogue within ongoing history will never lead to an agreement between the two interpretations: this is God's business at the end of history. For now it remains to both sides to struggle for the proper insight and to reverentially respect the perspective of the other side. The central content of the conversation will be the great promises of God to Israel, which I summarized in my contribution with the following key words: the messianic hope of Israel; the land; the Covenant; the ethical instruction and the right worship of God. Please allow me to briefly reiterate what I have tried to convey in my paper on the Christian understanding of these topics:

1. Of course, the messianic promise will always remain controversial. Nevertheless, I believe that there can be progress in mutual understanding. I have tried to reinterpret all of the messianic promises in their many forms, and thus to understand anew the intrinsic interpenetration of the already and the not-yet in [messianic] hope. The type of messianic expectation based on the figure of David remains valid, but is limited in its meaning. The authoritative figure of hope for me is Moses, of whom Scripture says he spoke as a friend face to face with the Lord. Jesus of Nazareth appears to us Christians as the central form of hope because he stands with God on intimate terms. From this new vantage point, the time of the Church does not appear to be the time of a world finally redeemed, rather the time of the Church for Christians is what the forty years in the desert was for Israel. Its essential content, then, is the exercise of the freedom of the children of God, which is no less difficult for the "nations" than it had been for Israel. Adopting this new view of the time of the nations will offer a theology of history that Jews may not be able to accept as such, but may yet offer a new stage in our common struggle with our mission.

2. Today, a proper interpretation of the land promises is vital for all sides in the context of the birth of the State of Israel. Without repeating everything I have said in my essay, I would like to reiterate the thesis, which is important not only for Christians, that the State of Israel as such cannot be theologically classified as the fulfillment of the land promise, but is in itself a secular state, which certainly has religious bases. For the fathers of the State of Israel – Ben Gurion, Golda Meir, etc. – it was quite clear that the state they created had to be a secular state – simply because it was the only way to survive. I believe that the development of the idea of ​​a secular state is substantially indebted to Jewish thought, according to which secularism does not mean being anti-religious. The Holy See was only able to establish diplomatic relations with the State of Israel on such terms. And the dispute with the Arabs and the search for peaceful coexistence with them are also bound to this view. It is not difficult, I believe, to see that in the creation of the State of Israel the fidelity of God to Israel is revealed in a mysterious way.

3. In terms of morality and worship, I believe we can now see a much greater harmony of Israel and the Church than ever before. Since the beginning of modern times, the whole subject has been overshadowed by the anti-Judaic thinking of Luther, for whom after his "Tower experience" the rejection of the law became essential. This experience, which for him was life-giving, has combined with the thinking of Marcion to produce a pseudo-religious Marcionism, which has not yet been fully repudiated. It seems to me that there are important opportunities for a renewed dialogue with Judaism on this very point.

Dear Rabbi, I have gone on for too long and I apologize for that. With my thanks again for your text, I am yours truly,

[signed] Benedict XVI