Sunday, 5 December 2010

On the relationship between Christianity and Judaism

So the relationship between Judaism and Christianity seems to be a hot topic at the moment in a couple of places, so I wanted to pick up some of the issues here, and along the way continue the process of absorbing some of the important teaching on Scripture set out in the Pope's Post-Synodal Exhortation on Scripture, Verbum Domini.

The dispute over the relationship of Christianity to Judaism

Over at Sentire Cum Ecclesia a discussion prompted by Pope Benedict VI’s interesting comments on his rationale for rewriting the traditional Good Friday prayer for the conversion of the Jews has prompted claims that Christianity is fundamentally different from Judaism by virtue of having abandoned its detailed laws and practices (a decision at least one commenter suggests should be revisited), and that “the Christian church effectively appropriated the Hebrew Scriptures in a spirit of self-justification rather than true title”.

Arguing from the opposite extreme, but essentially arriving at the same conclusion sits my correspondent Cardinal Pole, wants to make a distinction between anti-semitism and anti-judaism:

“By anti-Semitism I mean antipathy towards Jews which is motivated by racism; by anti-Judaism I mean opposition to the 'traditions of men' which Christ Himself condemned two thousand years ago and which have since been codified as the Talmud. Anti-Semitism is opposition to an ethnic group insofar as it is an ethnic group, while anti-Judaism is opposition to a religion insofar as it is a religion. In this day and age, Judaism can mean nothing other than Talmudism, to which all Christians must be opposed.”

What does the Gospel condemn?

Now I have to say I don’t think either of these positions hold water. The interpretation of the various references to ‘the Jews” in Scripture are hotly debated of course, but I would suggest that they do need to be understood in context.

Let me put a radical suggestion: the early Church viewed ‘the Jews’ more as heretics than as a different religion, and that is a useful perspective for us to keep in mind even today (noting that I'm not one to have much truck with heresy!).

By far the most numerous of the condemnations of the Jews are references to those who rejected Jesus as the Messiah, and denied the truth of the Resurrection.  Many of Our Lord’s denunciations refer to those who insist on an overly literal interpretation of the law, forgetting its spirit.  And many of them are references to the Jewish authorities and are used in exactly the same way many conservatives and traditionalist often refer to “the bishops” – ie people in authority who should know better, but just don’t seem to get what is sitting right in front of their noses!  They are best seen as calls for conversion.

The development of Judaism (and Christianity) after the 'split'

It is certainly true, I think, that the two religions have over time more sharply differentiated themselves from each other. Christians decided early on that practice of the 613 laws set out in the Torah, as well as the accumulated customary law (since codified and further developed in the Talmud) was not necessary. And the Jewish authorities decided on a canon of Scripture towards the end of the first century AD that managed to exclude a number of texts particularly helpful to Christianity by cutting out anything not written in Hebrew (including the widely used Greek Septuagint). At some point anti-Christian prayers were included in the normal prayers said each day by Jews.

But does that make absolutely everything in modern Judaism antipathetic to Christianity? I don’t personally think so. After all, unlike Muslims, there can surely be no serious argument about whether or not we worship the same God.  It is all a matter of perspective of course, but much of the Jewish faith as practiced today remains true – albeit incomplete and insufficient for salvation, which comes only through Christ.

The Old Testament

So just what is the relationship of Christians to the Old Testament and the faith it represents? The central claim of Christianity is that we are the heirs to the promises made to the Jewish people in the Old Testament: we are “the remnant” that will be preserved, we are the People of Israel. In other words, Christians are Jews really!

Pope Benedict XVI’s recent Apostolic Exhortation, Verbum Domini puts it like this:

“In the passage from letter to spirit, we also learn, within the Church’s great tradition, to see the unity of all Scripture, grounded in the unity of God’s word, which challenges our life and constantly calls us to conversion. Here the words of Hugh of Saint Victor remain a sure guide: “All divine Scripture is one book, and this one book is Christ, speaks of Christ and finds its fulfilment in Christ” Viewed in purely historical or literary terms, of course, the Bible is not a single book, but a collection of literary texts composed over the course of a thousand years or more, and its individual books are not easily seen to possess an interior unity; instead, we see clear inconsistencies between them. This was already the case with the Bible of Israel, which we Christians call the Old Testament. It is all the more so when, as Christians, we relate the New Testament and its writings as a kind of hermeneutical key to Israel’s Bible, thus interpreting the latter as a path to Christ. The New Testament generally does not employ the term “Scripture” (cf. Rom 4:3; 1 Pet 2:6), but rather “the Scriptures” (cf. Mt 21:43; Jn 5:39; Rom 1:2; 2 Pet 3:16), which nonetheless are seen in their entirety as the one word of God addressed to us. This makes it clear that the person of Christ gives unity to all the “Scriptures” in relation to the one “Word”. In this way we can understand the words of Number 12 of the Dogmatic Constitution Dei Verbum, which point to the internal unity of the entire Bible as a decisive criterion for a correct hermeneutic of faith.

Against this backdrop of the unity of the Scriptures in Christ, theologians and pastors alike need to be conscious of the relationship between Old and the New Testaments. First of all, it is evident that the New Testament itself acknowledges the Old Testament as the word of God and thus accepts the authority of the sacred Scriptures of the Jewish people. It implicitly acknowledges them by using the same language and by frequently referring to passages from these Scriptures. It explicitly acknowledges them by citing many parts of them as a basis for argument. In the New Testament, an argument based on texts from the Old Testament thus has a definitive quality, superior to that of mere human argumentation. In the Fourth Gospel, Jesus states that “Scripture cannot be rejected” (Jn 10:35) and Saint Paul specifically makes clear that the Old Testament revelation remains valid for us Christians (cf. Rom 15:4; 1 Cor 10:11).We also affirm that “Jesus of Nazareth was a Jew and the Holy Land is the motherland of the Church”:[133] the roots of Christianity are found in the Old Testament, and Christianity continually draws nourishment from these roots. Consequently, sound Christian doctrine has always resisted all new forms of Marcionism, which tend, in different ways, to set the Old Testament in opposition to the New.

Moreover, the New Testament itself claims to be consistent with the Old and proclaims that in the mystery of the life, death and resurrection of Christ the sacred Scriptures of the Jewish people have found their perfect fulfilment. It must be observed, however, that the concept of the fulfilment of the Scriptures is a complex one, since it has three dimensions: a basic aspect of continuity with the Old Testament revelation, an aspect of discontinuity and an aspect of fulfilment and transcendence. The mystery of Christ stands in continuity of intent with the sacrificial cult of the Old Testament, but it came to pass in a very different way, corresponding to a number of prophetic statements and thus reaching a perfection never previously obtained. The Old Testament is itself replete with tensions between its institutional and its prophetic aspects. The paschal mystery of Christ is in complete conformity – albeit in a way that could not have been anticipated – with the prophecies and the foreshadowings of the Scriptures; yet it presents clear aspects of discontinuity with regard to the institutions of the Old Testament.

These considerations show the unique importance of the Old Testament for Christians, while at the same time bringing out the newness of Christological interpretation. From apostolic times and in her living Tradition, the Church has stressed the unity of God’s plan in the two Testaments through the use of typology; this procedure is in no way arbitrary, but is intrinsic to the events related in the sacred text and thus involves the whole of Scripture. Typology “discerns in God’s works of the Old Covenant prefigurations of what he accomplished in the fullness of time in the person of his incarnate Son”. Christians, then, read the Old Testament in the light of Christ crucified and risen. While typological interpretation manifests the inexhaustible content of the Old Testament from the standpoint of the New, we must not forget that the Old Testament retains its own inherent value as revelation, as our Lord himself reaffirmed (cf. Mk 12:29-31). Consequently, “the New Testament has to be read in the light of the Old. Early Christian catechesis made constant use of the Old Testament (cf. 1 Cor 5:6-8; 1 Cor 10:1-11)”. For this reason the Synod Fathers stated that “the Jewish understanding of the Bible can prove helpful to Christians for their own understanding and study of the Scriptures”.

“The New Testament is hidden in the Old and the Old is made manifest in the New”, as Saint Augustine perceptively noted. It is important, therefore, that in both pastoral and academic settings the close relationship between the two Testaments be clearly brought out, in keeping with the dictum of Saint Gregory the Great that “what the Old Testament promised, the New Testament made visible; what the former announces in a hidden way, the latter openly proclaims as present. Therefore the Old Testament is a prophecy of the New Testament; and the best commentary on the Old Testament is the New Testament”.


sortacatholic said...

Late to this feast, but I am compelled to comment.

The 1970 Good Friday bidding prayer "for the Jews" succinctly place forth your just and true case that the Old and New Testaments are bound not in a typographical sense but in exegetical, symbolic, ritual, and socio-cultural linkages. To affirm that the Jewish people were the first to be called to God is both truth of the faith and a substantive bulwark against supersessionist and neo-Marcionite positions.

Nevertheless, Pope Benedict decided to compose his own bidding prayer for the Jews rather than simply replace the 1962 prayer with the 1970 prayer. The 2008 revised prayer speaks little of the profound cooperation between the revelation of the Hebrew Bible and the revelation of the New Testament. I can't help but wonder if Pope Benedict is still committed to supersessionism despite Nostra Aetate. I also wonder if the ambiguity of the revised prayer betrays his reluctance to alienate radical anti-Jewish/anti-Semitic schismatics such as the SSPX rather than take the just route towards reconciliation with Judaism and the Jewish people.

Pope Benedict's refusal to revise the Good Friday bidding prayers in accord with the 1970 revisions illuminates his later decisions in favor of the supersessionist and anti-Semitic SSPX. Pope Benedict's unconditional removal of the canonical penalties occurred by the bishops consecrated in Econe in 1988 underscores his not-so-tacit support for those who are unwilling to reconcile with Judaism and atone for past Christian violence towards the Jewish people.

Pope Benedict's integration of the 1970 Good Friday bidding prayer reforms into the 1962 missal would have unambiguously rebuffed the hatred of the SSPX. Instead, Pope Benedict has failed by capitulating to political concerns rather than human justice and reconciliation.

Kate said...

'Sortacatholic' - more is at stake than the anti-semitism of some elements of the SSPX, since while Marcionism is a heresy, 'supercessionism', depending on how it is defined, is actually the teaching fo the Church affirmed by Vatican II and since. No wonder the Pope didn't want to replicate the whimpy 1970 version of the prayer!