Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Kasper: how Vatican II teaches prayer for Jewish conversion

On Good Friday, Cardinal Walter Kasper, head of the Vatican's Commission for Religious Relations With the Jews, published an article defending Benedict XVI's revisions to the "Good Friday Prayer for the Jews" in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung: "Das Wann und Wie entscheidet Gott" (March 21, 2008). Christopher Blosser, "Kasper's attack on dual covenant theology: how Vatican II teaches prayer for Jewish conversion" (Against the Grain, April 8, 2008), links an English translation [pdf] by Dr. Thomas Pink (King's College London) along with his extended observations in the form of a guest post. Excerpts:
  • Concerning the article's standing: ... Kasper's emphasis and choice of terms are certainly not those of Cardinal Schoenborn's recent Tablet defence of the Christian evangelization of Jews (Judaism’s way to salvation March 29, 2008). But I do not see any serious theological conflict between them or between either and Benedict.

  • If there is an internal theological target being aimed at by Kasper, it is very clearly dual covenant theology.

    This is the view, increasingly widespread in certain US and German theological circles involved in Jewish dialogue, that the Jews have their own saving covenant distinct from and independent of that offered by Christ to the Gentiles, and that therefore there is no ground for Jews to convert to Christianity and enter the Church. Jewish conversion is not something for which the Church should call, pray, or strive. The dual covenant camp, theologians such as Pawlikowski et al, try and base all discussion on Nostra Aetate, and interpret this actually very short and vague declaration in isolation from preceding documents of the Council. They treat Nostra Aetate as a whole New Pentecost on its own, from which among Church documents all future Judaeo-Christian dialogue is supposed uniquely to develop, and on which whatever speculative theological structure they fancy can then be erected as new 'Church teaching'. Kasper will not have this, and reinforces the standing of Nostra Aetate by relating it to the rest of the Council, and in particular to the greater authority of Lumen Gentium. But the content of Lumen Gentium is flatly opposed to dual covenant theology, as we can see from Lumen Gentium paragraph 9, a passage that very clearly states Catholic teaching on the relation of the Jewish people to the Church and the New Covenant:
    "[God] therefore chose the race of Israel as a people unto Himself. With it He set up a covenant. Step by step He taught and prepared this people, making known in its history both Himself and the decree of His will and making it holy unto Himself. All these things, however, were done by way of preparation and as a figure of that new and perfect covenant, which was to be ratified in Christ, and of that fuller revelation which was to be given through the Word of God Himself made flesh. "Behold the days shall come saith the Lord, and I will make a new covenant with the House of Israel, and with the house of Judah . . . I will give my law in their bowels, and I will write it in their heart, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people . . . For all of them shall know Me, from the least of them even to the greatest, saith the Lord." (Jeremiah 31) Christ instituted this new covenant, the new testament, that is to say, in His Blood, calling together a people made up of Jew and gentile, making them one, not according to the flesh but in the Spirit. This was to be the new People of God."
    Dual covenant theology, it seems to me, cannot survive this passage.

    Notice that here the Council quotes Jeremiah chapter 31 as a prophetic foretelling of the New Covenant. It is important that Kasper refers, via discussion of St Paul, to Jeremiah 31 too, as a prophetic foretelling of the future salvation of the Jews - which, by the Pauline argument, will consist in the future saving reincorporation of the Jews into the olive tree of salvation from which they have become cut off. That olive tree, then, in the context of Jeremiah 31 is Israel (as Lumen Gentium para 9 later on also terms the Church - the 'New Israel') considered as the People of Jeremiah's New Covenant. There is only one covenant for the Jews to return to, one shared with the Gentiles.

    Another point that Kasper emphasizes repeatedly from the start is that Jesus really is the Christ, that is, the Jewish Messiah. But the logic of dual covenant theology is surely to put this in some doubt. (Or so I've always thought - and so Luke Timothy Johnson at least seems willing to move towards concluding: see this amazing piece in which Luke Timothy Johnson says, it seems, that Jews should not let Christians persuade them into seeing Jesus as truly the Jewish Messiah).

  • The 2008 prayer clearly is viewed by Kasper (and one presumes Benedict as well) to concern the conversion of the Jewish people as a whole. ...

  • Clearly St Paul in addressing the synagogues was aiming at conversions, and moved on only when he did not find them. ...

  • Hence in this field, traditionalist mistrust of Kasper seems misplaced, and is based on a misunderstanding. ...

  • The 1962 and 1970 liturgies: united in prayer for Jewish conversion ...
[Hat tip to Raphael's father, C.E.Y.B.]

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