By: Edward Idris Cardinal Cassidy
Two Symbolic Events
On March 12, 2000, Pope John Paul II called for and presided over a special service in St. Peter’s Basilica during which, in the name of the Catholic Church throughout the world the following prayer was offered:
God of our Fathers, you chose Abraham and his descendants
To bring your name to the nations:
We are deeply saddened by the behaviour 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.
On March 26, 2000, just two weeks later, Pope John Paul II placed this prayer seeking pardon for the suffering caused to the Jews in the course of history, with his signature on it, in the Western Wall of the Temple in Jerusalem. Three days earlier, His Holiness had laid a wreath on the tomb in the mausoleum of Yad Vashem and re-kindled the flame that recalls the six million victims of the Shoah. In continuation, as it were, of the prayer offered in St. Peter’s, the Pope stated during that moving ceremony in Jerusalem:
Here as at Auschwitz and many other places in Europe, we are overcome by the echo of the heart-rending laments of so many. Men, women and children cry out to us from the depths of the horror that they knew. How can we fail to hear their cry? No one can forget or ignore what happened. No one can diminish its scale. We wish to remember. But we wish to remember for a purpose – namely, to ensure that never again will evil prevail, as it did for the millions of innocent victims of Nazism.
There events symbolize the new relationship that has been forged over the past 36 years, since the Second Vatican Council, between Catholics and Jews. Pope John Paul II looking back at the many outstanding events of the Holy Year did not hesitate to judge the visit to Jerusalem as one of the most significant. For those of us who were privileged to stand with him at the Western Wall of the Temple, it seemed that all the efforts made over the previous thirty odd years to mend the broken and bloodstained fences between Jews and Christians had received the seal of God’s blessing and could never be again undone. A well-known Dominican biblical scholar and longtime resident of Jerusalem, Rev. Father Jerome Murphy-O’Connor, commenting on the Pope John Paul’s visit to the Western Wall of the Temple, stated:
By standing there (at the Western Wall), he transformed the relationship of Christianity towards Judaism. It is a complete reversal of history.
Three Important Recent Developments:
In the past there has been a notable reluctance on the part of the Jewish partner to discuss questions concerning our faith understanding. This is of course very understandable in view of the past experiences of the Jewish people. Recently, however, to my delight, I am hearing more and more Jewish voices making the request that we enter into genuine dialogue or discussions on theological questions. Rabbi Eric H. Yoffie, the President of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, which unites 1.5 million Reform Jews in 895 Synagogues in North America, in a lecture given last year called for Catholics and Jews to reflect together on faith questions and has urged the Catholic Church and his organization to undertake a joint campaign about the two religions. “This means”, he said, “that the Catholics need to educate Catholics about Jews, and the Jews to educate Jews about Catholics”. While the Holocaust remains for him, as for Catholics, a deep concern, he believes that “a dialogue of grievance can no longer dominate our relations”. We must – both Jews and Christians – bring the great news of Jewish-Christian reconciliation to the members of our communities if we wish to ensure that we are building on a solid foundation.
Three recent documents have come to confirm the great progress that has been made in Christian-Jewish relations and to look forward to a new era of cooperation. Moreover, they seem to me to open the way for more intense dialogue on questions that, so far, we have not dared to approach.
1) Dabru Emet
The first was an initiative from the Jewish partner in our dialogue, namely the publication in September 2000 of a Jewish Statement on Christians and Christianity: Dabru Emet (Proclaim the Truth). The document opens with the statement: “In recent years, there has been a dramatic and unprecedented shift in Jewish and Christian relations”, and considers that the changes made by Christians “merit a thoughtful Jewish response”. It then offers eight brief statements about how Jews and Christians may relate to one another:
- Jews and Christians worship the same God. “While Christian worship is not a viable religious choice for Jews, as Jewish theologians we rejoice that, through Christianity, hundreds of millions of people have entered into relationship with the God of Israel”.
- Jews and Christians seek authority from the same book – – the Bible (what Jews call “Tanakh” and Christians call the “Old Testament”). While noting that Jews and Christians interpret the Bible differently on many points, the statement insists that such differences must always be respected.
- Christians can respect the claim of the Jewish people upon the land of Israel.
- Jews and Christians respect the moral principles of Torah. “Central to the moral principles of Torah is the inalienable sanctity and dignity of every human being. All of us were created in the image of God. This shared moral emphasis can be the basis of an improved relationship between our two communities. It can also be the basis of a powerful witness to all humanity for improving the lives of our fellow human beings and for standing up against the immoralities and idolatries that harm and degrade us”.
- Nazism was not a Christian phenomenon. “Without the long history of Christian anti-Judaism and Christian violence against Jews, Nazi ideology could not have taken hold nor could it have been carried out. Too many Christians participated in, or were sympathetic to, Nazi atrocities against Jews. Other Christians did not protest sufficiently against these atrocities. But Nazism itself was not an inevitable consequence of Christianity. If the Nazi extermination of the Jews had been fully successful, it would have turned its murderous rage more directly to Christians. We recognize with gratitude those Christians who risked or sacrificed their lives to save Jews during the Nazi regime. With that in mind, we encourage the continuation of recent efforts in Christian theology to repudiate unequivocally contempt of Judaism and the Jewish people”.
- The humanly irreconcilable difference between Jews and Christians will not be settled until God redeems the entire world as promised in the Scripture.
- A new relationship between Jews and Christians will not weaken Jewish practice.
- Jews and Christians must work together for justice and peace.
“Dabru Emet” goes further than any other Jewish document in acknowledging the close links that bind Jews and Christians together and in calling for closer collaboration in favour of justice, peace and the preservation of the moral order. The statement on Christianity and Nazism is particularly welcome, while the acknowledgement that “the humanly irreconcilable difference between the Jews and Christians will not be settled until God redeems the whole world as promised in Scripture”, is a timely reminder that, as we look to the future, Catholics and Jews must not dialogue with the expectation that they will agree on everything. It would be naive of us to think so. We are two distinct faith communities with common roots and a great deal in common, yet with essential differences that must be respected. The process of dialogue requires both a clear understanding of one’s own faith tradition and openness to the experience of others. We must not be surprised or disturbed when, on one or other matter that touches our faith or history, we have different opinions or understandings. Neither should sincere criticism upset us, provided that it is objective and framed in a way that does not offend our mutual esteem and respect for one another. Such criticism can be good for us. It helps us to reflect more deeply on our positions or initiatives. This is, of course, very different from certain aggressive criticism with its own agenda, and from the activity of pressure groups.
2) Abraham’s Heritage – A Christmas Gift
The document Dabru Emet was followed by short article by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, published on the front page of L’Osservatore Romano on December 29th, 2000, entitled: Abraham’s Heritage – A Christmas Gift. Referring to the very negative Jewish reaction to the document from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith Dominus Jesus, published in September 2000, His Eminence affirms:
It is evident that, as Christians, our dialogue with the Jews is situated on a different level than that in which we engage with other religions. The faith witnessed to by the Jewish Bible is not merely another religion to us, but is the foundation of our own faith.
The Cardinal then gives what has been called “a new vision of the relationship with the Jews” . After tracing briefly the history of God’s dealings with the Jewish people, the Cardinal expresses “our gratitude to our Jewish brothers and sisters who, despite the hardness of their own history, have held on to faith in this God right up to the present and who witness to it in the sight of those peoples who, lacking knowledge of the one God, ‘dwell in darkness and the shadow of death’ (Luke 1:79)”.
The article then has the following interesting comment on relations between Christians and Jews down through the centuries:
Certainly from the beginning relations between the infant church and Israel were often marked by conflict. The Church was considered to be a degenerate daughter, while Christians considered their mother to be blind and obstinate. Down through the history of Christianity, already-strained relations deteriorated further, even giving birth to anti-Jewish attitudes that throughout history have led to deplorable acts of violence. Even if the most recent, loathsome experience of the Shoah was prepared in the name of an anti-Christian ideology that tried to strike the Christian faith at its Abrahamic roots in the people of Israel, it cannot be denied that a certain insufficient resistance to this atrocity on the part of Christians can be explained by the inherited anti-Judaism in the hearts of not a few Christians.
For the Cardinal, it is perhaps this latest tragedy that has resulted in a new relationship between the Church and Israel, which he defines as “a sincere willingness to overcome every kind of anti-Judaism and to initiate a constructive dialogue based on knowledge of each other and reconciliation”. If such a dialogue is to be fruitful, the Cardinal suggests that “it must begin with a prayer to our God first of all that he might grant to us Christians a greater esteem and love for that people, the people of Israel, to whom belong the adoptions as sons, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship and the promises; theirs the patriarchs, and from them, according to the flesh, is the Messiah (Rom. 9:4-5), and this not only in the past, but still today, for the gifts and the call of God are irrevocable (Rom. 11:29)”.Cardinal Ratzinger goes on to propose to Christians that they in their turn might pray to God “that he grant also to the children of Israel a deeper knowledge of Jesus of Nazareth, who is their son and the gift they have made to us”. His final conclusion reminds us of the sixth statement in Dabru Emet: “Since we are both waiting the final redemption, let us pray that the paths we follow may converge”.
3) Reflections on Covenant and Mission
This is quite a remarkable statement “issued by the Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs Committee of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and the National Council of Synagogues USA”. It is the result of discussions between leaders of Jewish and Roman Catholic communities in the United States, who have been meeting twice a year over a period of two decades, and was published on August 12th, 2002.
For several years, I have been advocating a study of this kind on the relationship between the two Covenants that basically describe the nature of the two religious communities. The document Reflections on Covenant and Mission is an encouraging response, that – in the words of the US Bishops Moderator for Catholic-Jewish Relations -, “marks a significant step forward in the dialogue between the Catholic Church and the Jewish community” in his country.
The Jewish and Catholic reflections are presented separately in the document, but affirm together important conclusions. The Catholic reflections describe the growing respect for the Jewish tradition that has unfolded since the Second Vatican Council, and state:
A deepening Catholic appreciation of the eternal covenant between God and the Jewish people, together with the divinely-given mission to Jews to witness to God’s faithful love, lead to the conclusion that campaigns that target Jews for conversion to Christianity are no longer theologically acceptable in the Catholic Church.
The document stresses that evangelization, or mission, in the Church’s work cannot be separated from its faith in Jesus Christ in whom Christians find the kingdom present and fulfilled. But it points out that this evangelizing mission goes far beyond “the invitation to a commitment to faith in Jesus Christ and to entry through baptism into the community of believers that is the Church. It includes the Church’s activities of presence and witness; commitment to social development and human liberation; Christian worship, prayer, and contemplation; interreligious dialogue; and proclamation and catechesis”.
But given the “utterly unique relationship of Christianity with Judaism” and the many aspects of this spiritual linkage, “the Catholic Church has come to recognize that its mission of preparing for the coming of the kingdom is one that is shared with the Jewish people, even if Jews do not conceive of this task christologically as the Church does”. In view of this, the document quotes Prof. Tommaso Federici and Cardinal Walter Kasper to state that there should not be in the Church any organization dedicated to the conversion of the Jews. From the Catholic point of view, Judaism is a religion that springs from divine revelation. Cardinal Kasper notes:
God’s grace, which is the grace of Jesus Christ according to our faith, is available to all. Therefore, the Church believes that Judaism, i.e. the faithful response of the Jewish people to God’s irrevocable covenant, is salvific for them, because God is faithful to his promises.
According to Roman Catholic teaching, the document states, both the Church and the Jewish people abide in covenant with God. They both therefore have missions before God to undertake in the world. The Church believes that the mission of the Jewish people is not restricted to their historical role as the people of whom Jesus was born “according to the flesh” (Rom 9:5) and from whom the Church’s apostles came. It quotes Cardinal Ratzinger who recently wrote, “God’s providence … has obviously given Israel a particular mission in this ‘time of the Gentiles’.” “However, only the Jewish people themselves can articulate their mission, “in the light of their own religious experience”.
The Catholic section of the document concludes with this profound statement:
With the Jewish people, the Catholic Church, in the words of Nostra Aetate, “awaits the day, known to God alone, when all peoples will call on God with one voice and serve him shoulder to shoulder”.
The Jewish reflections are given the title: The Mission of the Jews and the Perfection of the World. This mission is described as three-fold, rooted in Scripture and developed in later Jewish sources:
There is, first, the mission of covenant – the ever-formative impetus to Jewish life that results from the covenant between God and the Jews. Second, the mission of witness, whereby the Jews see themselves “and are frequently seen by others” as God’s eternal witnesses to His existence and to his redeeming power in the world. And third, the mission of humanity, a mission that understands the Biblical history of the Jews as containing a message to more than the Jews alone. It presupposes a message and a mission addressed to all human beings.
The document describes the mission of covenant and witness, before dealing more at length with the mission of humanity, stating that the message of the Bible is a message and a vision not only to Israel but to all of humanity. It then reminds the reader that Isaiah speaks twice of the Jews as a light to peoples, and quotes the experience of Jonah to illustrate that it is a mistake to think that God is concerned only with the Jews. “The God of the Bible is the God of the world. His visions are visions for all of humanity. His love is a love that extends to every creature […] Adam and Eve were His first creations and they are created long before the first Jews. They are created in ‘the image of God’, as are all of their children to eternity. Only the human creation is in the divine image:” Tikun ha-olam, perfection or repairing of the world, is a joint task of the Jews and all humanity. Though Jews see themselves as living in a world that is as yet unredeemed, God wills His creatures to participate in the world’s repair.
Finally, the Jewish reflections point out certain practical conclusions that follow from the three-fold “mission” in classical Judaism, and which suggest a joint agenda for Christians and Jews. The reflection begins with the following statement:
Although Christians and Jews understand the messianic hope involved in that perfection quite differently, still, whether we are waiting for the messiah – as Jews believe – or for the Messiah’s second coming – as Christians believe – we share the belief that we live in an unredeemed world that longs for repair.
Then it asks: “Why not articulate a common agenda? Why not join together our spiritual forces to state and to act upon the values we share in common and that lead to the repair of the unredeemed world? It then outlines what Jews and Christians have already done together: advancing the cause of social justice, marching together for civil rights, championing the cause of labor and farm workers, petitioning the government to address the needs of the poor and homeless; calling on the country’s leader to seek nuclear disarmament.
Looking then to the Talmud, the document draws from that source thoughts about repairing the world, giving details of charity directed to the poor and deeds of kindness to all, the poor and the rich, the living and the dead; creating an economy where people are encouraged to help one another financially as an expression of their common fellowship; obligations to the sick and mourners; preserving the dignity of the aged. While Jewish law is of course directed at Jews and its primary concern is to encourage the expression of love to the members of the community, it points out that many of these actions are mandatory towards all people, and quotes the Talmud as saying:
One must provide for the needs of the gentile poor with the Jewish poor. One must visit the gentile sick with the Jewish sick. One must care for the burial of a gentile, just as one must care for the burial of a Jew. [These obligations are universal] because these are the ways of peace.
Our Common Mission
Not everyone in our two communities will agree with all that is stated in this document. Yet, I believe the challenge it poses can be, and should be, fully shared by Christians and Jews. At the conclusion of the historic meeting, on March 23rd, 2000, between the two Chief Rabbis of Israel and Pope John Paul II at the Heichal Shlomo, the Pope did not hesitate to affirm:
There is much that we have in common. There is much that we can do together for peace, for justice, for a more human and fraternal world. May the Lord of heaven and earth lead us to a new and fruitful era of mutual respect and co-operation, for the benefit of all.
If we examine both the Jewish and Christian relationship to God, it is clear that both have been given a common mission: to be a light to the nations. Pope John Paul II has stated:
As Christians and Jews, following the example of the faith of Abraham, we are called to be a blessing to the world. This is a common task awaiting us. It is therefore necessary for us, Christians and Jews, to be first a blessing to one another. .
Our world today urgently needs our common witness to the truths that God has entrusted to us, Jews and Christians. Already in Prague, in 1990, the International Liaison Commission pledged its members to seek Common Goals. We are faced with a growing secularization worldwide, a deep crisis of faith that either denies or simply ignores the very existence of God. The extraordinary advances in technology and the enormous effects on commerce and life of globalization tend to make the creature once again arrogant and self-sufficient, as at the time that men set out to build a tower “with its top reaching heaven”, that has been named Babel (Gen 11:4-9). The events of September 11 last year and the aftermath have shown us just how much evil there is in our world today and what terrible resources are available to those who set out on the path of evil. In the days following the attack on New York, Pope John Paul II, on his visit to Kazakstan, appealed “to everyone, Christians and the followers of other religions, that we work together to build a world without violence, a world that loves life, and grows in justice and solidarity … May people everywhere, strengthened by divine wisdom, work for a civilization of love, in which there is no room for hatred, discrimination or violence”.
Can we make now the great change that this calls for in our relationship, by moving away further from the old mistrust and suspicion to a partnership in the cause of “peace, justice and a more human, fraternal world”? That I believe is the challenge that we face. While preserving past gains, I would hope that we, Catholics and Jews, might move towards a closer partnership. I would wish to see our dialogue as the work of two equal partners seeking together to build a better world. We began our discussions in order to solve our problems and promote a new relationship. It seems to me that we need now to go further and move our gaze from the bilateral relations of Jews and Christians to a wider world.
The Jewish section of the document Reflections Covenant and Mission challenges all Christians and Jews to take up such a path:
Does not humanity need a common path that seeks the ways of peace? Does not humanity need a common vision of the sacred nature of our human existence that we can teach our children and that we can foster in our communities in order to further the ways of peace? Does not humanity need a commitment of its religious leadership, within each faith and beyond each faith, to join hands and create bonds that will inspire and guide humanity to reach toward its sacred promise? For Jews and Christians who have heard the call of God to be a blessing and a light to the world, the challenge and mission are clear. Nothing less should be our challenge – and that is the true meaning of mission that we all need to share.