The Universal Catechism’s Teaching On The Jews
This lecture, delivered at The Second Monsignor John M. Oesterreicher Memorial Lecture in 1994 at Seton Hall University, details the changes that the new catechism authorized relating to Catholic attitudes towards Jews and Judaism.
I consider your invitation to deliver this second Monsignor Oesterreicher lecture a great honor whose challenge fills me with a mixture of enthusiasm and trepidation.
Enthusiasm since I am a great admirer of Monsignor Oesterreicher and consider his accomplishments truly outstanding and remarkable in what is one of the most important challenges of our time: understanding and reconciliation between Christians and Jews. The great work that Msgr. Oesterreicher accomplished, in his writings and teachings and through the unique and most important Institute of Judeo Christian Studies here at Seton Hall University achieved a level of erudition and originality that leaves us all breathless.
Monsignor Oesterreicher had the good fortune to play an important role in the work of the Second Vatican Council. His life is testimony to the power that document has had in bridging Christians and Jews, leading them to further understanding and respect.
Trepidation since I am fully aware of my limitations and I know how much he cared about this work of reconciliation and I want my contribution to be on a caliber that he would have appreciated.
I must also admit that I feel a sense of trepidation knowing that I follow the first Oesterreicher memorial lecturer, my very dear friend and colleague Dr. Eugene Fisher, who has spent his life working in this area of Jewish- Christian relations and all of us are in his debt.
To be associated with such outstanding scholars and to be able to participate in the work of this outstanding Institute of Judeo-Christian Studies is indeed a great honor for me.
Monsignor Oesterreicher had a vision of dialogue. It required first and foremost, mutual respect. Dialogue’s purpose is to bring about mutual understanding which reinforced and never denied the integrity of both parties.
What was needed was a dialogue which strove to understand the other as he or she understood themselves and take the additional step of seeing oneself through the eyes of the other. It was the great Sage Hillel who said “Do not judge your fellow human being until you stand in his or her place.” (Mishnah Abot II:4) I would add, in addition, once you stand in the other’s place, then try to see how the other sees you. It is then that one can truly participate in the mental and emotional framework of the other, and then we can fully see how we are seen.
It is to Monsignor Oesterreicher’s credit that this was the ideal he set for himself in dialogue and which he exemplified to us during his many years here at this great university with its fine faculty, its impressive library and its atmosphere of learning and respect for truth.
For those here who may not be aware of the writing and thinking of Msgr. Oesterreicher, I feel impelled to quote from one of his many thoughtful writings, the essay entitled “The Martyrs of the Decalogue.”
In Jewish circles we have heard it said by scholars like Emil Fackenheim and writers like Elie Wiesel that a 614th commandment issued from Auschwitz. This commandment summons us not to give Hitler a posthumous victory.
I have often thought that while this affirmation has intense emotional appeal, it must be seen in its proper context. It is not simply that Hitler should not win — that barbarism and tyranny and malignant nationalism not win out — but rather that Judaism and all that Judaism stands for should not lose or disappear. In this respect what Msgr. Oesterreicher has written in his very moving essay “Martyrs of the Decalogue” deserves to be quoted in full.
He states, “My thesis on the origin of Hitler’s contempt for the Jewish people is based on his life as a whole, on the sum total of his words and works; yet it is expressly supported by several of his “pronouncements.” His table talks from the years 1932 to 1934, in the presence of one of Danzig’s major office bearers, Hermann Rauschning, are a veritable storehouse of the Fuehrer’s opinions on a variety of topics, particularly on faith, worship, Judaism, and Christianity. Here are some of his dicta which prove his awareness of, and inveterate repugnance to, the theological significance of the Jewish people. Hitler is quoted as saying:
We are now at the end of the Age of Reason. The intellect…has become a disease of life. Our revolution is not merely political or social; we are at the outset of a tremendous overthrow of moral ideas and of Man’s spiritual orientation…. The tablets of Mount Sinai have lost their validity. Conscience is a Jewish invention; like circumcision, it mutilates Man…. There is no such thing as truth…. One must distrust mind and conscience; one must place one’s trust in one’s instincts.
Msgr. Oesterreicher continues: “Since all tenets rejected in this ‘proclamation’ are associated with Jews and Judaism, indeed derive from them, Hitler had to see in the Jews his archenemies.”
“Whether the lives of individual Jews conform to the Commandments or not, Jews in their totality, that is, as covenanted people, stand for God’s claim on all humanity, each person and the whole community…
“The Jews were an invisible phalanx, standing in the way of the amoral society he wished to build, a society based, not on the distinction between good and evil, but on the ‘Aryan instinct’ or the drive of Nietzsche’s Blond Beast. Their very being spoiled his dream of becoming the architect of that new world, the creator of a society in which biblical values — the Ten Commandments, first of all — were ‘outlawed.’ As spoilers of his scheme, they had to be done away with. Even their memory was to be eradicated. Thus the Jews who died as Hitler’s victims unwittingly bore testimony to the Ten Commandments. They are and will be for all times ‘Martyrs of the Decalogue’.”
We see from the above quote all that Hitler identified with Judaism. We also see that Hitler must have understood that Christianity equally stood by and stands by those values that he hated and condemned. Indeed the historian Robert Weistrich in his book Antisemitism – The Longest Hatred states, “Nazism itself became contaminated with a profound Christophobia, decrying Christianity as a `Semitic’ religion which was emasculating the healthy, heroic and warrior virtues of the German people with its preaching of the virtues of humility, compassion, charity and love” (p 68).
Monsignor Oesterreicher clearly perceived the strong historic links between Judaism and Christianity. He was deeply distressed that so much misunderstanding and antagonism existed between the two religions and he devoted his life to the work of understanding and reconciliation. I must add, that in this work he had the able help of Father Frizzell, the present Director of The Institute for Judeo-Christian Studies, along with Father John Morley; Professor in Seton Hall’s Department of Religious Studies. Their work is also an inspiration to all of us.
Anyone familiar with the many statements made by Pope John Paul II with respect to dialogue and inter-religious understanding can see the common perspective shared by Pope John Paul and Msgr. Oesterreicher.
Dialogue and Its Prerequisites
In his presentation to the delegates to the meeting of representatives of Episcopal Conferences and other experts in Catholic-Jewish relations: Commission for Religious Relations with Judaism on March 6, 1982, the Pope outlined what he felt were the goals to be achieved in Catholic teaching with respect to Jews and Judaism. He stated, “We should aim, in this field, that Catholic teaching at its different levels, in Catechesis to children and young people, presents Jews and Judaism, not only in an honest and objective manner, free from prejudices and without any offenses, but also with full awareness of the heritage we have sketched above.”
The heritage the Pope was referring to was all that the Church owes to the people of Israel. Not only “the Patriarchs, Moses and the Prophets” but also, quoting Paul, Israel who “have the adoption as sons, and the glory and the covenants and the legislation and the worship and the promises, who have the fathers, and from whom is Christ according to the flesh” (Rom 9:4-5).
The Pope was pointing out that Christians should in no sense minimize the heritage of Monotheism and all it entails as an achieved possession of Judaism incorporated into Christianity. (Footnote 1)
The Pope asked that Judaism be depicted fairly and that the debt that Christianity owes Judaism be acknowledged. The Pope, however, did not leave it at that in his talk. He spoke further of a mysterious design on the part of God which connects the Jewish people and the Church and he spoke of a “close collaboration towards which our common heritage directs us, in service of man and his vast spiritual and material needs. Through different, but finally convergent ways, we will be able to reach, with the help of the Lord who has never ceased to love his people (see Rom 11:1) this true brotherhood in reconciliation and respect and to contribute to a full implementation of God’s plan in history.”
In his conception of a divine plan, the Pope clearly rejects any view of Judaism which sees it as a fossil or stunted, unable to continue to bear witness and be creative religiously.
As to the past checkered history, the Pope told the representatives of the Episcopal conferences that “Relations between our two communities have been marked by the misunderstandings and resentments with which we are all familiar. And if, since the day of the separation there have been misunderstandings, errors, indeed offenses, it is now our task to leave these behind with understanding, peace and mutual respect. The Pope then added “The terrible persecutions suffered by the Jews in different periods of history have finally opened the eyes of many and appalled many people’s hearts. Christians have taken the right path, that of justice and brotherhood, in seeking to come together with their semitic brethren, respectfully and perseveringly, in the common heritage, a heritage that all value so highly.” (My italics)
In the Pope’s first meeting with representatives of the Jewish community, he outlined a number of issues which were to take on broader and clearer definiteness.
He quoted the Council Declaration Nostra Aetate: “While searching into the mystery of the Church it recalled a spiritual bond linking the people of the new covenant with Abraham’s stock” the Pope continued “thus it understood that our two religious communities are connected and closely related at the very level of their respective religious identities.” It is this very connection, that makes it incumbent on both faiths, “to fulfill God’s commandment of love, and to sustain a truly fruitful and fraternal dialogue that contributes to the good of each of the partners involved and to our better service of humanity.”
After establishing the indissoluble connection for Christians of Judaism with Christianity he then gave full assent to the prologue on Religious Relations with the Jews (December 1, 1974) which asked Christians to strive to acquire a better knowledge of the basic components of the religious tradition of Judaism: “They [Christians] must strive to learn by what essential traits the Jews define themselves in the light of their own religious experience.”
But the Pope wanted to emphasize that as essential as it is for Christians to understand Jews and Judaism especially in the terms with which they define themselves, it is equally necessary for Jews to understand the Church and Christians.
Dialogue and communication is needed in order not to distort the other. The Pope said to the Jewish delegation. “You are here I believe to help us in our reflection on Judaism.
And I am sure that we find in you and in the communities you represent, a real and deep disposition to understand Christianity and the Catholic Church in its proper identity today so that we may work from both sides toward our common aim of overcoming every kind of prejudice and discrimination.” (My italics)
The Pope clearly recognized that dialogue is mutual and understanding or the attempt to understand must also be mutual if real dialogue is to take place. But dialogue is not enough, true and genuine reconciliation must be achieved. Yes, full “mutual understanding” must be striven for but even more, the Pope feels that reconciliation would be the will of God. The Pope said “It is for Him (God) to give to both religious communities, so near to each other, that reconciliation and effective love which are at the same time his command and his gift. In this sense, I believe, each time that the Jew recites the `Shema Yisrael’, each time that Christians recall the first and second great commandments, we are by God’s grace, brought nearer to each other.”
The Pope fully recognizes the distinctive quality of each faith and its integrity, there is no blending here, no collapsing of Judaism into Christianity. The Shema will still be the affirmation of the one God for Jews but it will be indissolubly linked to the Christians’ affirmation of the first two commandments.
In elaborating on this concept of what connects and what separates our two traditions and the connection of our respective religious identities the Pope stated to the Jewish community in Paris on May 31, 1980 that this means that this relationship must be “further deepened and enriched by study, mutual knowledge, religious education on both sides and the effort to overcome the difficulties that still exist.”
To the Jewish community in Sao Paulo(7/3/80) he added: “Jews and Catholics strive to deepen the common biblical heritage without however trying to conceal the differences which separate us and in this way a renewed mutual knowledge can lead to a more adequate presentation of each religion in the teaching of the other.” (My italics)
In his speech to the delegates of Episcopal Conferences on March 6, 1982, the Pope explicitly spelled out what reconciliation meant. He stated, “It should not be confused with a sort of religious relativism, still less with a loss of identity….May God allow Christians and Jews really to come together, to arrive at an exchange in depth founded on their respective identities, but never blurring it on either side, truly searching the will of God the revealer.”
With the possible exception of the documents of Vatican II, no document will have as much influence on Catholics worldwide as the Universal Catechism of the Catholic Church. Its authoritative character is clearly set forth in the Pope’s introduction to the text. There the Pope states that the Catechism is “a statement of the Church’s faith and of Catholic doctrine….I declare it to be a sure norm for teaching the faith and thus a valid and legitimate instrument for ecclesial communion.” Further down the Pope continues that the Catechism is “a sure and authentic reference text for teaching Catholic doctrine and particularly for preparing local Catechisms.” (p 5) (My italics)
As an authoritative text the Catechism is being taught and preached on all over the country. Indeed, the Center for Christian-Jewish Understanding will be holding seminars all over the United States on the Catechism in cooperation with a number of Dioceses to help understand and implement its teachings on Jews and Judaism. It is my understanding that a detailed study of the Catechism is taking place or will take place shortly in other parts of the world, so that the imprint of the teachings of the Catechism will reach far and wide throughout the Catholic and non-Catholic world since much interest has been expressed in its contents also among Protestants and Jews and even Oriental religionists.
Since the Catechism is to function as a guide for the formation of local catechisms and is to be adapted to “differences of culture, age, spiritual maturity, and social and ecclesial condition among all those to whom it is addressed” and since “such indispensable adaptations are the responsibility of particular catechism and, even more, of those who instruct the faithful” (p 11) it is of utmost importance that its teachings on Jews and Judaism be reflected on in dialogues between Catholics and Jews so that such adaptations be done in the spirit of honesty and mutual brotherly esteem.
It is, therefore, of the utmost importance for us to ask whether the Catechism is in the spirit of Nostra Aetate, its Guidelines and the Notes for Teaching and Preaching about the Jews ( 1985); embodying their innovations in its pages. It is also important to ask whether the wise words of Pope John Paul II are manifest in its teachings. It is to these questions that we now turn.
Before dealing with the way in which the Catechism deals with Jews and Judaism, it is important to clearly state at the outset that the Catechism is in no sense a treatise on Judaism or primarily concerned with Judaism. It is an authoritative formulation of Catholic faith in a form that is coherent, comprehensive and applicable to the life of faith of Catholics.
The Catechism deals with issues relating to Jews and Judaism as it attempts to clarify the Catholic faith and finds that clarification to be possible only in relation to the faith history and teachings of Judaism. As such, it is not interested in Judaism in itself or for itself, but in Judaism for Catholics and in relation to Catholic teachings and beliefs.
The Teaching of Contempt
In reading the Catechism, the first question which anyone concerned with the attitude towards Jews and Judaism asks is: How does the Catechism handle the many scriptural statements that have been used traditionally to express what the great French Jewish scholar, Jules Isaac, referred to as “the teaching of contempt.” (Footnote 2)
Not to leave you in suspense, let me state that all those statements in the New Testament and in Catholic tradition which were hostile to Jews as such and formed the basis for the teaching of contempt are not included or referred to in the Catechism. The one most quoted statement from the Gospel of Matthew, which could not be ignored, is interpreted so as to reject any Anti-Semitic interpretation.
You may wonder why after the Vatican Council and the Guidelines and the Notes, as well as the many positive and courageous statements of Pope John Paul II, in particular his visit to the synagogue of Rome in 1986, there is any need to review this dismal history. It is important to do so since these writings and speeches are not generally read by Catholic laypeople.
Unfortunately, the revolution in Catholic thinking is the province of all too few and with the Catechism already having sold millions of copies and continuing to sell, it will have the most significant and far reaching influence on all who read it, Christians and non-Christians alike
Let us refresh our memories as to the concerns of Jules Isaac. He was concerned with three fundamental teachings that constituted for him “the teaching of contempt.”
First and foremost was the charge of deicide, then the ensuing condemnation of the Jews as being of the devil and doing the devil’s work. Concomitant with that is the teaching that the Jews have been rejected by God and that the “New Israel” formed by the new covenant has annulled and replaced the old. Taking these assertions in reverse order, it is most significant that the Catechism clearly and categorically rejects any annulment or rejection of the covenant with Israel. Section 63 states “Israel is the priestly people of God `called by the name of the Lord’ and the first to hear the word of God. the people of ‘elder brethren’ in the faith of Abraham.” The affirmation that the people of Israel are in the present tense, not were in the past, the people of God is reaffirmed throughout the Catechism and is bolstered by the affirmation in the section dealing specifically with the Jews in the statement of Paul in Romans that the Covenant with Israel is “irrevocable” (see sections 839- 40;2173;522;121)
Similarly, the Catechism nowhere quotes the disturbing passage from John. You may remember it states “Your father is the devil and you choose to carry out your Father’s desires” (John 8:44). This verse is referred to in the Catechism but only by way of authenticating the existence of the Devil. It is not used otherwise. The most grievous text, however, for anti-semitic purposes is the verse from Matthew (27:25) which states that after Pontius Pilate washes his hands as to take no responsibility for Jesus’ death, the people shouted “His blood be on us and on our children.” Here the Catechism specifically refers to the people as “a manipulated crowd” and also refers to “the personal sin of the participants (Judas, the Sanhedrin, Pilate) as known to God alone.” (Footnote 3)
The Catechism here reaffirms the rejection of the accusation of deicide made by the Second Vatican Council which stated “Neither all Jews indiscriminately at that time, nor Jews today can be charged with the crimes committed during his passion….the Jews should not be spoken of as rejected or accursed as if this followed from Holy Scriptures.”
The Catechism then continues in the very next section 598: “The Church has never forgotten that `sinners were the authors and the ministers of all the sufferings that the divine redeemer endured’: Taking into account the fact that our sins affect Christ Himself, the Church does not hesitate to impute to Christians the gravest responsibility for the torments inflicted upon Jesus, a responsibility with which they have all too often burdened the Jews alone.”
The Roman Catechism of 1566 had already made the point that those who profess to know Christ are more guilty of the Crucifiction than those who did not understand or profess to know Him. The Catechism states: “We, however, profess to know Him, and when we deny Him by our deeds we in some way seem to lay violent hands on Him
Nor did demons crucify him, it is you who have crucified him and crucify him still, when you delight in your vices and sins.” It has often been objected that in Christian and other writings the tactic of making all the Christians good, sons of `light’, and all the Jews as bad without qualification, furthers the teaching of contempt. This tactic as we have seen is expressly repudiated in the passage dealing with the Crucifixion wherein Christians are charged with greater responsibility. This is also acknowledged in other places in the Catechism. For example, in section 401 it states “Even after Christ’s atonement, sin raises its head in countless ways among Christians.” In short, Christians are not exempt from sin.
In addition to the deicide charge, Jules Isaac noted a second cause of the teaching of contempt: the non- recognition of the debt that Christianity owed Judaism. Including the realization that Jesus was a Jew, the Apostles, Mary, as well as Paul, Isaac felt this was an injustice to the truth of the New Testament itself. Here the Catechism goes a long way to rectify any injustice or misunderstanding.
Section 531 referring to Jesus states, “His religious life was that of a Jew obedient to the Law of God.” This section fully incorporates the statement in the Notes (III 1) which states “Jesus was and always remained a Jew.”
The pagans as embodied in the Magi come to Israel as the place the Messiah is awaited and to the Jewish people. Section 528 states that “Pagans can discover Jesus and worship him as Son of God and savior of the world only by turning toward the Jews and receiving from them the Messianic promise as contained in the Old Testament.” Here we see that the validity and importance of the Hebrew scriptures are foundational for Christianity and indeed any temptation toward a Marcionistic or Gnostic rejection of the Hebrew Bible is explicitly repudiated. Section 121 states “the Old Testament is an indispensable part of Sacred Scripture. Its books are divinely inspired and retain a permanent value for the old covenant has never been revoked.” Indeed Section 123 states “Christians venerate the Old Testament as true word of God. The Church has always vigorously opposed the idea of rejecting the Old Testament under the pretext that the New has rendered it void (Marcionism).”
While it is true that the Church in order to be true to itself must “Read the Old Testament in the light of Christ crucified and risen….it must not make us forget that the Old Testament retains its own intrinsic value as revelation.”
This section summarizes the teaching in the Notes which affirms that “There is a Christian reading of the Old Testament which does not necessarily coincide with the Jewish reading. Thus Christian identity and Jewish identity should be carefully distinguished in their respective reading of the Bible. But this detracts nothing from the value of the Old Testament in the Church and does nothing to hinder profiting discerningly from the traditions of Jewish reading” (Notes II 6).
Third, Jules Isaac called for the recognition of the spiritual significance of rabbinic Judaism. Isaac states, “Everything at this period attests to the depth and intensity of the religious life of Israel.” (Teaching of Contempt, p 150).
On this issue, the new catechism also makes major headway in clearing up the relationship of Jesus to the Pharisees, who are the predecessors of rabbinic Judaism.
Fortunately, the previously monolithic view that the Pharisees were, across the board, antagonistic to Jesus and his message has been relinquished. In Section 574, we see that only “certain Pharisees and partisans of Herod together with priests and scribes [which is not to say "all" priests and scribes] agreed together to destroy him.”
More explicitly, Section 575 states that “Christ’s relations with the Pharisees were not exclusively polemical. Some Pharisees warned him of the danger he was courting; Jesus praises some of them, like the scribe of Mark 12:34, and dines several times at their homes. Jesus endorses some of the teachings imparted by this religious elite of God’s people: the resurrection of the dead, certain forms of piety (almsgiving, fasting, and prayer), the custom of addressing God as Father, and the centrality of the commandment to love God and neighbor.”
We might add much to this list, such as Pharisaic identification of Messiah and suffering servant.
The Rabbis were the ones to make the affirmation of the unity of God central in Jewish prayer, the Shema. Also, it is important to note that martyrology originated and became central in rabbinic Judaism and was taken over by the Church.
This, however, is not to obscure real differences between them, and hence, real differences between Catholics and Jews. Section 588, mentions that “Jesus scandalized the Pharisees by eating with tax collectors and sinners as familiarly as with themselves.” Affirming “I have not come to call the righteous , but sinners to repentance.”
Nevertheless, Section 595 affirms, referring to Jn 12:42; cf. 7:50; 9:16-17; 10:19-21; 19:38-39 that “a great many priests were obedient to the faith” and “Some believers… belonged to the party of the Pharisees” to the point that, in reference to Acts 6:7, 15:5; 21:20, James could tell Paul, “How many thousands there are among the Jews of those who have believed; and they are all zealous for the Law.”
Similarly, the new Catechism characterizes the relationship between Jesus and the Temple in fresh terms. Section 583 says explicitly that “like the prophets before him Jesus expressed the deepest respect for the Temple in Jerusalem.” “At age 12, he decided to remain in the Temple to remind his parents that he must be about his Father’s business.”
Section 584 states that “Jesus went up to the Temple as the privileged place of encounter with God.” “He drove merchants out of it because of jealous love for his Father: `You shall not make my Father’s house a house of trade.’” Quoting still, “After his Resurrection his apostles retained their reverence for the Temple.”
Section 586, states in no uncertain terms that Jesus was “far from having been hostile to the Temple, where he gave the essential part of his teaching.” And of course, this is carried to its Christological interpretation, that Jesus fully “identified himself with the Temple by presenting himself as God’s definitive dwelling-place among men.”
The new Catechism portrays Jesus as a good and religiously observant Jew.
With respect to the liturgy, Section 1096 gives ample credit to the Jewish liturgy not only of the past but “as professed and lived even now can help our better understanding of certain aspects of Christian liturgy.”
On the Eucharist (Sections 1328FF; 1334; 1340) the Catechism shows its intrinsic connection to the “Jewish Blessing” as well as the “Jewish Meal” indeed the Jews’ daily bread “is the fruit of the promised land, the pledge of God’s faithfulness to his promises.” Similarly, the Psalms are praised as “The book in which the word of God becomes man’s prayer” (Section 2587).
But most of all, Jules Isaac felt that the close bond that existed between Jews and Christians, between Christianity and Judaism was betrayed by the teaching of contempt and that only by correcting this erroneous teaching, could the true intimate relationship between the two religions be recognized.
Issue of Salvation and Supersessionism
Here it is necessary to ask and answer a fundamental question. Must the language of fulfillment incorporate the language of supersessionism? If so, then Jules Isaac’s dream of close relationships would not be possible.
It is hardly possible for the Church to be true to itself and not adopt the language of fulfillment. Such language is part and parcel of the New Testament and it is the foundation of the Christian faith. To abandon such language is to radically redefine traditional Catholicism. While it is true, that there are a number of scholars and theologians who believe this should be done, such a change will require as great a revolution, if not greater than Vatican II. Since to ask a Catechism which is to carry on the teachings and doctrines of the Catholic faith to so totally revise Biblical and Catholic teaching is premature since these issues must first be debated and formulated and agreed upon by the proper bodies in the Church. Therefore, to ask the Catechism to break new ground is unrealistic. The question is, rather, has the Catechism incorporated the new ground that has been assimilated and has become Church teaching as a result of Vatican II and subsequent Church documents as well as the authoritative statements of the Pope?
Granting then that the Church must adopt the language of fulfillment, the issue then is, must the language of fulfillment be also necessarily the language of supersessionism? That is, can one be one without the other? In order to clarify this question, we must first try to understand what fulfillment is and what supersessionism is, and the best way to achieve that is by raising the issue of salvation as embodied in the Catechism.
However, again not to leave you in suspense all one needs to do is compare the Baltimore catechism with the present Catechism to see the monumental difference between what was and what is. As you can see, the Baltimore catechism is supersessionist in the sense that it is rejectionist. The present catechism is not supersessionist at all. It embodies fulfillment theology and not supersessionist theology.
The Baltimore Catechism asks in Q. 391. “Why did the Jewish religion, which up to the death of Christ had been the true religion, cease at that time to be the true religion”?
A. The Jewish religion, which, up to the death of Christ, had been the true religion, ceased at that time to be the true religion, because it was only a promise of the redemption and figure of the Christian religion, and when the redemption was accomplished and the Christian religion established by the death of Christ, the promise and the figure were no longer necessary. Here we have supersessionism and rejectionism. As we shall see, in dealing with the issue of salvation, the Church rejects all supersessionism.
The Issue of Salvation
Section 776 states it forthrightly, “The Church is Christ’s instrument. She is taken up by him also as the instrument for the salvation of all.” Indeed the prologue to the entire Catechism quotes Acts 4:12 “There is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved (than the name of Jesus).” Incidentally, it is for this reason that the Catechism explicitly rejects any revelations that claim to have gone beyond the fulfillment in Jesus. Section 67 states “Christian faith cannot accept `revelations’ that claim to surpass or correct the revelation of which Christ is the fulfillment, as is the case in certain non-Christian religions and also in certain recent sects which base themselves on such revelations.” I think it is safe to infer that here the Catechism has Islam in mind and also perhaps Mormonism.
There is no point adding up quotes; throughout the Catechism it is repeatedly stated that the full realization and fulfillment of the truth is in Christ and in his Church which is the Catholic Church. The fullness of salvation for the Catechism is in and through the Catholic Church, but the Catechism does not ignore, nor fail to confront what historically has been a significant dogma that “outside the Church there is no salvation” (page 224 following section 845).
The Catechism in Section 846 asks: “How are we to understand this affirmation, often repeated by the church fathers? Reformulated positively, it means that all salvation comes from Christ the Head through the Church which is His Body.” The Catechism then continues, “basing itself on scripture and tradition, the council teaches that the Church….is necessary for salvation: The one Christ is the mediator and the way of salvation; He is present to us in His body which is the Church. He Himself explicitly asserted the necessity of faith and Baptism, and thereby affirmed at the same time the necessity of the Church which men enter through Baptism as through a door. Hence, they could not be saved who, knowing that the Catholic Church was founded as necessary by God through Christ, would refuse either to enter it or to remain in it.”
The next section 847 continues “This affirmation is not aimed at those who, through no fault of their own, do not know Christ and His Church: Those who, through no fault of their own, do not know the gospel of Christ or His Church, but who nevertheless seek God with a sincere heart, and moved by grace, try in their actions to do His will as they know it through the dictates of their conscience — those too may achieve eternal salvation.” (CF Section 1260)
This granting of salvation to all individuals of good faith, in no sense diminishes the obligation of the Church or takes away its “sacred right to evangelize all men”; in other words this recognition that all human beings can be saved if their intentions are such that through the light of reason they strive to do God’s will and act ethically, as section 55, states “For He wishes to give eternal life to all those who seek salvation by patience in well doing.” Nevertheless, the Church is obliged to engage in missionizing for the full truth to be made manifest to all.
The “Missionary Task” it is essential to add, “implies a respectful dialogue (underlining in text) with those who do not yet accept the Gospel.” (Section 856)
There are repeated references in the Catechism to “God’s plan of salvation” and that plan in the Church’s understanding envisages a time when all human beings will be fulfilled in Christ and the biblical promises of God’s kingdom will be achieved.
How do the Jews fit into all this? First of all, it is explicitly stated that the Jews will be included in this final realization. Section 674 states, “The `full inclusion’ of the Jews in the Messiah’s salvation, in the wake of the full number of the Gentiles will enable the people of God to achieve `The measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ’ in which `God may be all in all.’” The context of this section makes it very clear, however, that the reference is in the future, to the second coming of Christ (my italics) (as the prior Section 673 and the very next section 675 alludes to).
As is also that segment of the Catechism dealing with the Jewish people. (Beginning with Section 839) which states:
“Her own mystery, the Church, the People of God in the New Covenant, discovers her link with the Jewish people `the first to hear the word of God.’ The Jewish Faith, unlike other non-Christian religions, is already a response to God’s revelation in the Old Testament. To the Jews `belong the sonship, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises; to them belong the patriarchs, and of their race according to the flesh, is the Christ,’ `for the gifts and the call of God are irrevocable.’” The very next section, 840 continues “and when one considers the future, God’s people of the old covenant and the new people of God tend towards similar goals: expectation of the coming (or the return) of the Messiah. But one awaits the return of the Messiah who died and rose from the dead and is recognized as Lord and Son of God; the other awaits the coming of a Messiah, whose features remain hidden till the end of time; and the latter waiting is accompanied by the drama of not knowing or of misunderstanding Christ Jesus.” (Footnote 4)
It seems to me that the Jews are conceived as being there with the Church up till the end when the full mystery of revelation and salvation is fulfilled. Hence, these texts make it very clear why in the Pope’s encyclical Redemptoris Missio which deals with the Church’s mission and quoted extensively throughout the Catechism, there is no mention of the Jews and why active missionizing to the Jews has not been practiced by the Church.
Let us summarize. Salvation in the full and final sense, according to the Catechism is through Christ and the Church. The Church cannot abandon its missionary task albeit it must conduct its mission in a respectful manner and in no way use coercive or forceful measures, but by example. As to the Jews, they are combined with the Church in a divine plan of which the Apostle Paul spoke and which must be respected. This plan which will find its fulfillment at the end of days, when it is expected Christ will return, is also to be fulfilled by the Jews attending to this event in expectation of “a Messiah” which the Jews erroneously believe not to be the Christ of the Church. But this waiting is to be accepted as part of the Divine Plan. Till then it must be understood that the Biblical claims as to the “Chosen People” embodied in Scripture and especially in Paul’s epistle to the Romans stand firm. The Jews are the people of God.