Emeritus Pope Benedict

Damage prevails

Joachim Valentin on the Ratzinger essay on Judaism

Viewpoint | Bonn - August 17, 2018 

[From katholisch.de. Unofficial translation.]


Did the church replace the people of Israel in their calling as the chosen people and as the covenantal partner of the Eternal? Was the Abrahamic covenant ever ended in favor of the New Testament? So are Jews ultimately on their way to salvation only by converting to Christianity? These are questions that were after the [Second Vatican] Council statement Nostra Aetate — and especially after published remarks by Pope John Paul II (among others) in Mainz 1981 — in fact finally answered "no." The rejection of the old supersessionist theology or even a [conversionary] mission to the Jews since then have been important pillars of the initially tentative and now well-established Catholic-Jewish dialogue, not least in Germany. Of course, at the price of a break with a centuries-old "tradition."

Pope Benedict XVI had second thoughts about the conclusiveness of this important policy direction. His reformulation of the Good Friday intercession for the Jews for the extraordinary rite and his dealings with the Society of St. Pius X arose. In July, in the theological journal Communio, and at the request of the responsible curial cardinal Kurt Koch, he stated in a theologically nuanced article that  "the phraseology the 'unrevoked covenant' [...] was not precise in the long run," thus roiling Jewish and Catholic interlocutors. 

Of course, this is not a matter of formal teaching, but of a theological contribution to the discussion. However, the insistence with which Cardinal Koch rejected the criticism expressed by Catholic and Jewish theologians a few days ago in a contribution to the KNA makes one wonder what Catholic doctrine is on this question. How can a dialogue be deepened if one questions its foundations? How can a dialogue be successful in which the unfaithfulness of one's counterpart, but not the unfaithfulness of the church itself in its 2000 year history, is discussed in relation to its own covenant? And these are just the most pressing questions the text raises.

Even the Viennese dogmatic theologian Jan-Heiner Tück, publisher of Communio, who is not known for excessive criticism of the church, had to recognize that Ratzinger had "exclusively dealt with the sharpening of internal Christian language," but was "not actually having a conversation with Jewish theology." But the benefit that may be achieved here is already outweighed by the damage. Especially in times of growing antisemitism, an unconditional affirmation of the shared path to mutual awareness and genuine appreciation is required. It will now be up to all concerned to find their way back there.


Joachim Valentin is the Director of the Catholic Culture and Encounter Center "Haus am Dom" in Frankfurt-on-Main and Chairman of the Frankfurt Council of Religions.