(Vatican Radio) What is the relationship between the Old and New Testaments? How does God’s promise to the People of Israel relate to the new covenant that Christ brought for all people through his death on the Cross? And what does the Catholic concept of evangelisation mean in relation to Jews today? Those questions are at the heart of a new document, published on Thursday by the Vatican’s Commission for Religious Relations with Jews.
The document, entitled ‘The Gifts and Calling of God are Irrevocable’, marks the 50th anniversary of the ground-breaking Vatican II declaration ‘Nostra Aetate’. It was presented at a press conference in the Vatican by Cardinal Kurt Koch and Fr Norbert Hofmann of the Vatican Commission, together with two Jewish representatives, Rabbi David Rosen, International Director of Interreligious Affairs for the American Jewish Committee, and Dr Ed Kessler, founding director of the Cambridge Woolf Institute. Philippa Hitchen takes a closer look….
The document, published in a handy pocket-sized booklet, picks up where Nostra Aetate left off half a century ago and delves deeper into the thorny theological questions at the heart of the Jewish-Catholic dialogue. Published in English, but available in several other languages, the document is divided into seven sections, starting with a brief review of changing relationships between Catholics and Jews, moving – as Pope Francis recently put it – from “enemies and strangers to friends and brothers”.
It reiterates the fact that the Church’s dialogue with Judaism cannot be considered in the same light as other interfaith relations and that Christianity cannot be properly understood outside of the Jewish context and culture in which Jesus, his family and his first disciples were living.
Described as a study document, rather than official Church teaching, the text was drawn up painstakingly over several years with input from both Jewish colleagues and the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. At its core is the different way in which Jews and Christians understand the revealed Word of God – through the texts of the Torah for the former and through the person of Christ for the latter.
While Christians have in the past believed that the life of Christ in the New Testament substitutes or replaces the Old Testament stories of the chosen people of God, this document reaffirms that God’s original covenant with the Jews can never be revoked. Which leads to the hardest questions of all for Catholics about how the Jews can be saved if they don’t believe in Christ as the Messiah and Son of God. This document doesn’t claim to have any definitive answers but it does urge people of faith to continue to explore what it calls this “unfathomable divine mystery”.
The new text says clearly that the Church cannot support “any specific institutional mission” aimed at converting of the Jews, adding that Christians bearing witness to their faith in Christ should do so in a “humble and sensitive manner”, especially in view of the great tragedy of the Shoah. Finally the document spells out the goals of the ongoing dialogue, to deepen a shared interpretation of Scripture, to work together for justice, peace and the care of creation and to jointly combat all forms of anti-Semitism and racial discrimination.