Relations between Jews and Christians: Eighteen Theses

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National Catholic commission for Relations between Christians and Jews - Belgium

Belgio       1973

In Belgium in 1973 the National Catholic commission for relations between Christians and Jews drew up a series of eighteen theological theses highlighting issues which must be clarified in the area of Jewish-Christian relations. They were first published as part of an article by Rev. Luc Dequeker, “Le dialogue judéo-chretien: un défi à la théologie?”, which appeared in Bijdragen No. 37 (1976), pp. 2-8.

Unity of Divine Revelation
1. In the Bible, the same living God, Creator and Author of salvation, speaks to all men through the Old Testament as through the New, and his saving action affects all men.
The Old Testament is an inalienable part of Holy Scripture and as such must have its place in Christian life and thought.
Side by side with the reading of the Old Testament in the light of the New Testament will go the reading of the Old Testament according to its own meaning; it will also be used to enlighten the New Testament.
The unity of God's revelation and the fact that Christ came to confirm in the New Testament the message of the Old Testament proves that the one can not be read without the other.

2. The eschatological promise of the New Covenant (Jer. 31:31-34) contains the inalienable divine promise that the relationship of the people with God will be restored after the rupture of the Covenant by the infidelity of men. The restoration of the Covenant means that it is reintegrated in its original splendor. It is the deformation of the divine law caused by man's infidelity that necessitates its restoration in Christ. The same divine Covenant, expression of the will and fidelity of God, was inaugurated with Abraham, ratified with the Jewish people on Sinai and restored by Christ.

3. Can one say that Jesus was raised above the authority of Moses? Without denying the possibility of a certain lack of coordination between the gospel texts and the message of Jesus, it can be affirmed that Jesus never intended to abolish the Law or the prophets but clearly to accomplish them.
According to Matthew 5, to accomplish the Law of Moses means first of all to concretize, define, and apply to practical life the general principles of the Decalogue (Mt. 5:20-30). By this fact the Decalogue is confirmed by Christ.
Thus to accomplish the Law of Moses means to reject certain interpretations of the Law, prescriptions that are no longer relevant or have been wrongly interpreted by tradition (Mt. 5:31-48).
We can say with St. John that « the law was given through Moses » and that a grace and truth came through Jesus Christ* (Jn. 1:17). However, this affirmation does not imply opposition between the law and grace. Law and grace are two inseparable aspects of divine revelation.
Jesus Christ came to confirm the message of the first covenant in a unique, definitive and hence normative way. He was born of the Jewish people and lived fully according to the Law of Moses in a liberty with regard to the institutions that was typical of certain Jewish milieux.
4. Even St. Paul did not want rupture with his people Israel. He emphasizes the fact that c the gifts and the call of God are irrevocable* (Rom. 11:25-29).
St. Paul's statements on the Jewish law should be interpreted according to their original context. This means that we shall try to put them back into the context of polemic discussion on practical points of religious life (= halakha) which was already a feature of Judaism.
In this discussion Paul likes to oppose enslavement to the domination of the law, to the service of Christ; the dead and ossified letter of the law, to renewal in the spirit of Christ. However, to be exact, he does not envisage two successive economies of salvation, by their very nature opposite and different. For him there is only God's one saving plan, the final end of which is Christ (Rom. 10:4). Paul first of all takes a stand against the legalistic attitude to the Torah (= divine
teaching / divine revelation) as did many rabbis of his time (e.g. Pirkei Avot). It would be an injustice to take the legalism against which he warns the disciple of Christ as a definition of the Judaism of his time. Paul then underlines the new possibilities of life in Christ. To be renewed in the spirit of Christ, to live according to the law of Christ, is to free oneself from the dead letter and from legalism (—nomos) to find in Christ the totality of the divine Torah.
Because Paul opposes the justice of faith to the works of the law (Rom. 3:27), he does not in any way abrogate the law (see Rom. 3131). What is more, in spite of their different points of view, there is no contradiction between Paul and James with regard to the works of the law. St. James insists on the fact that this faith must prove and manifest itself in works, e.g. in the works of the law (James 2: 14ff).
As far as the New Testament is concerned, the idea that Christ's sacrifice replaces the levitical sacrifices and that Christ is the high-priest of a new covenant because the old law has been abrogated, is peculiar to the Epistle to the Hebrews (ch. 7 and 8). This assertion should be interpreted in its original historic context: the nostalgia of the exiled Judeo-Christians for liturgical worship and the definitive rupture between Christians and Jews after the second Jewish revolt (AD. 132-135). There is in the Epistle to the Hebrews a theological justification for the separation between Christianity and Judaism.

5. According to the Christian faith the Kingdom of God is manifested in the person of Christ. This fact cannot make us forget that Christians share with Jews the hope of the Kingdom of God that is to come. This hope underlies the activity and the prayer of both Jews and Christians, and in particular their concrete efforts towards the justice and peace that are to be realized in this world.
Christians and Jews have to live side by side the tension which differentiates their messianic expectation, tension between the « already » and the « not yet*, between c this world » and « the world to come ».

Interpretation of the New Testament texts on the Jews
6. The preaching of Jesus and the apostles cannot be detached from the framework of Jewish tradition, Palestinian as well as Hellenistic, in which the faith of the first Christian communities developed.
To study Judaism in the time of Christ we must go to the Jewish sources themselves in order to discover the authentic values which they express and to become familiar with the atmosphere and the religious life that they reflect.

7. Certain passages about the Jews in the gospels have given rise to false and dangerous interpretations.
When the synoptics and St. John use the collective term « the Jews » they are not referring to all the Jews of Christ's time, still less to all those of history. The expression, especially in the fourth gospel, designates — like « the world » — the adversaries of Jesus. The same is true of the parables. The elder brother of the prodigal, the murderous vine-tenders, for example, are wrongly identified with the Jewish people as a whole, whereas Jesus' intention was to condemn through the unbelief and jealousy of his time the infidelity which threatens all of us.
Moreover, the somewhat negative image of the Pharisees in the gospels should be corrected by objective information from rabbinic literature.
The positions taken up by Jesus on the practices of ritual purity are characteristic of his message, but one cannot deduce from them any principle of opposition between Judaism understood as a religion of ritual* and Christianity as a « religion of the spirit *.

8. The passages of the New Testament which treat of the destiny of the Jewish people are in the tradition of the prophets of Israel associating the threat of rejection with the promises of a final restoration.

9. As for the passion of Christ, it is dear that the Jewish people as such is not guilty of condemning and killing Jesus Christ nor of refusing his messianic mission.
The good faith of the Jewish contemporaries of Jesus in their fidelity to Judaism and their opposition to the newly-born Christianity cannot be a priori suspected.
Moreover, from the theological point of view there is reason to stress the solidarity of all men in sin. Christ underwent his passion and death freely . . . because of the sins of men . . » (Nostra Aetate 4, Catechismus Conc. Trident. Pars I Cap. V/11).

The Church and the Jewish People
10. The current opinion that the Church has taken the place of the Jewish people as the institution of salvation rests upon a facile interpretation according to which all that is new takes the place of the old; thus the idea of a new covenant evokes that of an old covenant; the new people of God, that of an old Israel, etc.
In the Bible the eschatological promise of a new covenant means essentially the final and decisive restoration of the covenant after the break caused by human infidelity.
According to the Christian faith this promise was realized in the Messiah, Jesus. The Church can truly call herself « people of the new covenant » only in so far as she lives — as the body of Christ — the messianic message and reality of Jesus. She will not be this fully until the end of time.

11. The fundamental precept of Christianity, that of love of God and neighbor, already promulgated in the Old Testament and confirmed by Jesus Christ, is binding upon Christians and Jews in all human relation. ships without exception.

12. We must avoid belittling Judaism, biblical or post-biblical, its laws, institutions, way of life, with the idea of exalting Christianity by ill-placed juxtapositions which are but caricatures: legalism — faith; flesh — spirit; fear — love; doctrine — life; earth
— heaven; ritual — action; institutional sclerosis
— prophetic inspiration; promise — fulfilment; . . The question is that of the constructive tensions which exist within every religious community and between communities.

13. The Jewish people is truly the neighbor of the Church and not its rival or a minority to be assimilated.
The posterity of Abraham and the Christian people ought not to enter into competition in salvation history. By a dialectic of divine grace and of human liberty Christians and Jews have each a specific role, and they stimulate each other in view of the salvation of the nations (Rom. 9-11).

14. It is through faith in Christ, himself deeply rooted in Israel, that the Christian community shares in the promises made to the people of God.
According to Pad the Church of the non-Jews shares in the vocation and in the mission of Israel (Rom. 11: 16ff: the wild olive and the engrafted branches; Eph. 2:19: fellow-citizens with the saints).

15. The Christian liturgy, very specially the Eucharist, both in content and form, is through its origins linked in a very intimate way to the religious practice of the Jewish people.
Christians have learnt from the Jews to pray with the psalms and scripture texts, and to bless God for his gifts.
On the great Christian feasts they celebrate the memory of important events in the Covenant, because Jesus Christ, by celebrating the feasts of Passover and Pentecost, has revealed the continuity of the plan for the liberation of men by the Father.
They can still discover in Judaism the riches of domestic and family liturgy.

16. Because relations with the Jews are linked to the mystery of the Church (Nostra Aerate 4), all the churches and Christian communities are called to promote these relations.
Christian unity can never be effected without a return to the origins, not only by resuming relations at the point where they were broken off, but also by rediscovering the roots of Jesus and of his message in the history and tradition of his people.
To exclude Judaism and hence also present-day Judaism from a return to Christian sources would be to disregard the Jewish origins of Christianity.
On the other hand any approach to Judaism with the idea of returning to the sources of Christianity should be accompanied by a deep respect for its personal and distinctive character.

17. The sufferings, persecution and dispersion suffered by the Jewish people cannot be presented as an immutable destiny or, still worse, a punishment!
If we are to be more faithful to Christian belief and to divine revelation, if that necessary condition for the creation of a more human world — an authentic relationship between Christians and Jews — is to be made possible, all forms of anti-Semitism, above all religious anti-Semitism, must be denounced and combatted.

18. In the measure in which Christianity recognizes in Judaism the roots of its own faith and no longer regards Judaism as a misled or obsolete religion, the missionary witness of the Church will no longer aim at « converting the Jews », which in the current sense of the term means annexation or proselytism.
Christians are obliged to witness, above all by their actions, to their belief in Jesus as Messiah. If this witness is to be faithful to the message of Christ, it must be a message of love, of justice and of respect for others. With regard to Judaism above all, Christian witness should be humble, respectful, and aware of the elements that are common to the Jewish and to the Christian messianic expectation.

SIDIC Review Vol IX No. 2 - 1976

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Inserito 01/01/1970