Catholics were understandably alarmed by “Reflections on Covenant and Mission,” a subcommittee document from a U.S. bishops’ office. Its key sentence said that “campaigns that target Jews for conversion to Christianity are no longer theologically acceptable in the Catholic Church.”
That sentence is fraught with difficulty and points to problems that pervade the document. The phrase “campaigns that target Jews” is vague. What campaigns? Efforts that exclusively target Jews or any effort that addresses them? The phrase “no longer theologically acceptable” is worse. If it was once “theologically acceptable,” what about theology has changed? While the prudence of something may change with time, its conformity to theological truth, one presumes, would not.
That said, the document was denounced unfairly by many Catholics. Much of it spoke to the nuanced relationship between the new and old covenant in the way Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger does.
We thought it would be helpful this week to offer, in addition to our front-page symposium, the words of Cardinal Ratzinger in the extraordinary new book, God and the World: A Conversation with Peter Seewald (Ignatius, 2002).
Cardinal Ratzinger: That is, especially just recently, a hotly disputed question. It is quite obvious that the Jews have something to do with God and that God has not abandoned them. And that is how the New Testament sees it, too. Paul says to us in the Letter to the Romans: In the end all of Israel will be brought home. It is another question, how far, with the rise of the Church — the people of God called from all peoples — and with the coming of the new covenant, life under the old covenant, a life that remains closed to the new covenant that comes from Christ, is still a valid way of life. …
Israel still has a mission to accomplish today. We are in fact waiting for the moment when Israel, too, will say Yes to Christ, but we also know that while history still runs its course even this standing at the door fulfills a mission, one that is important for the world. In that way this people still has a special place in God's plans.
No, because he is faithful. Of course, we can see that Israel still has some way to go. As Christians, we believe that they will in the end be together with us in Christ. But they are not simply done with and left out of God's plans; rather they still stand within the faithful covenant of God.
That is what we believe. That does not mean that we have to force Christ upon them but that we should share in the patience of God. We also have to try to live our life together in Christ in such a way that it no longer stands in opposition to them or would be unacceptable to them but so that it facilitates their own approach to it. It is in fact still our belief as Christians that Christ is the Messiah of Israel. It is in God's hands, of course, just in what way, when and how the reuniting of Jews and Gentiles, the reunification of God's people, will be achieved.
This is another of the paradoxes that the New Testament sets before us. On one hand, their No to Christ brings the Israelites into conflict with the subsequent acts of God, but at the same time we know they are assured of the faithfulness of God. They are not excluded from salvation, but they serve salvation in a particular way, and thereby they stand within the patience of God, in which we, too, place our trust.