Emeritus Pope Benedict

Benedict XVI writes about Christian-Jewish dialogue

The emeritus Pope Benedict XVI has taken up the pen once more and published a contribution to the Christian-Jewish dialogue in the current issue of the journal Communio. The German Pope writes of the need to refine important paradigms of the Jewish-Christian dialogue.


[From Vatican News. Unofficial translation.]

The purpose of Benedict’s text was initially only a private reflection on the post-conciliar rejection of the so-called "substitution theory" and of the phrase “the covenant never revoked,” Cardinal Kurt Koch explained in his foreword. However, he was able to convince the emeritus Pope to publish the essay composed in October 2017. Benedict has always been very concerned about the Jewish-Christian dialogue.

A double need for more refinement

In fact, the text signed "Joseph Ratzinger - Benedict XVI" and dated October 26, 2017, offers a thoroughly critical reflection of previous "standards" in the Jewish-Christian dialogue or post-conciliar theological reflection on the relationship between Judaism and Christianity. Specifically, Benedict XVI sees a need to refine two key words "substitution theory" and "the unrevoked covenant”: "both theses – that Israel is not superseded by the church, and that the Covenant has never been terminated - are basically correct, but "are in many ways inaccurate and must be given further critical reconsideration,” Benedict writes.

Thus, the "theory of supersessionism" – the idea that the Church has taken the place of Israel – "is not presented as such," clarifies the emeritus Pope, with reference to pertinent encyclopedias. Moreover, Judaism always has a special status from a Christian point of view, since Judaism is "not one religion among others," but "has a special standing and therefore must be recognized as such by the Church." In consequence, he explains his thesis on the basis of the lasting differences between Judaism and Christianity, specifically with regard to the temple cult, the cult laws, the status of the Torah, the question of the Messiah, and the land promise.

The question of the Messiah is "the real issue between Jews and Christians”

The “question of the Messiah” especially represents "the real issue of dispute between Jews and Christians," Benedict XVI firmly observes: If Jewish messianic expectation is focused on a too politically understood – peacemaker, one would have to point out from a Christian point of view that Jesus "did not want to bring immediately the perfect new world of peace (...), but also wanted to show God to the Gentiles.”

So there remains a certain surplus of promise, inasmuch as the time of Jesus "is not a time of a cosmic transformation in which the final verdicts between God and man have already been made, but a time of freedom," said Benedict XVI.

Rejection of "political messianism"

As a result, the Church rejects every "political Messianism," which, for example, in a theological interpretation of the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948, sees it as a fulfillment of the biblical promise of the land. Therefore, the Vatican recognition of the State of Israel is not rooted in theological reflection, but in the recognition of the Jews’ "natural right" to their own land, according to Benedict XVI. "In this sense, the Vatican has recognized the State of Israel as a modern constitutional state, whose foundation cannot be derived directly from Scripture, but in a broader sense, on the faithfulness of God to the people of Israel."

[The "Covenant never revoked"]

The question of the "never-revoked covenant" between God and the Jews – a phrase that goes back to John Paul II and belongs to the now obvious interpretive horizon of Judaism from a Christian perspective – needs, according to Benedict XVI, for some distinctions to be made.

Although the phrase is in principle "considered to be correct, but in detail, nevertheless, many clarifications and greater precision are still needed" in the sense that there was not only one covenant between God and his people, but many covenants. Also, the notice of the dismissal of a covenant does not belong to the theological conceptual world of the Old Testament. Also the idea accompanying it of ​​an agreement between equals does not correspond to biblical theology.

"The formula of the “covenant never revoked” may have been of help in a first phase of the new dialogue between Jews and Christians, but it is not suitable in the long run to adequately express the magnitude of reality," Benedict concludes.