The Catholic Church and the Nature of the Jewish People and the Old Covenant

What is the relationship between the Catholic Church and the Jews as well as the Old Covenant?

What is the nature of the Catholic Church and that of the Jewish people? Is it really true as many dissident theologians have been saying, namely that the Jewish people can be saved by their own beliefs, and furthermore by the nature of the Old Covenant, as if both the New and Old Covenant are both in effect and salvific (bi-coventalism)? I will address these things as well as why there has been a new direction in regards to Catholic ecclesiology and approach in regards to the nature of the Jewish people (Judaism) in recent decades, and furthermore address some of the scandalous documents that have come about recently such as The Gifts and Callings of God are irrevocable and why it is indeed a troubling document. Please bear with me as this will indeed be my most lengthy article up to date. Nevertheless I think this is good information that all Catholics should know.

In starting this article I will first address the nature of a problem that we are facing. Namely a change in regards to Catholic ecclesiology representing the nature of the Old Covenant and the Jewish people that has affected a large portion of the Church and even the current Magisterium including the approach of recent popes in regards to this issue. Boniface from one of my favorite websites, Unam Sanctam, has recently written a fascinating article The Holocaust and Its Shaping of Catholic Ecclesiology, which I highly recommend everyone to read. To summarize the article briefly it describes how the nature and tragedy of the Holocaust and the Shoah have greatly affected our nature of Catholic ecclesiology regarding the nature of the Jewish people in the modern world including the Old Covenant as well. As bad as the Holocaust and the Shoah were as historical events in regards to the horrors of Nazism, Boniface correctly goes on to point out that this event affected the view of Catholic ecclesiology regarding the nature of the Jewish people and the Old Covenant in such a way “which has replaced the 2000 year tradition (namely the fact that the New Testament with Christ and His Church superseded the Old Covenant) with a new constructive dialogue relationship.” This includes making our relationship and discussions with the Jewish people very politically correct and so in doing so has hurt and even to a large extent prevented a clear presentation of our Catholic Faith.

While the conciliar document Nostra Aetate is not in of itself heretical, much of what it says is actually correct, it did bring in some problematic language that is very easy both to misinterpret either accidently or purposely and in misapplying. One particular example of this in regards to Nostra Aetate section 4 which specifically addresses the Jewish people. In this particular section Nostra Aetate states:

“True, the Jewish authorities and those who followed their lead pressed for the death of Christ;(13) still, what happened in His passion cannot be charged against all the Jews, without distinction, then alive, nor against the Jews of today. Although the Church is the new people of God, the Jews should not be presented as rejected or accursed by God, as if this followed from the Holy Scriptures. All should see to it, then, that in catechetical work or in the preaching of the word of God they do not teach anything that does not conform to the truth of the Gospel and the spirit of Christ.” (Nostra Aetate 4)

It is the specifically bolded passage that is most troubling. What does the text itself mean in regards to the Jewish people? Surely it cannot be taken to mean that the Jewish people can be saved by clinging to the Old Testament. Nor can it be taken to mean that the New Covenant (Christ and His Church) has not indeed “superseded” or “fulfilled” the Old Covenant, which indeed it has. The problem however is that this particular language is so ambiguous that it is very easy to misapply. This is indeed the case with dissident theologians such as Walter Kasper in using the text erroneously to articulate his false belief, and the belief of many other dissident theologians, namely that both the Old and the New Covenants are salvific (bi-coventalism). Furthermore the Modern Magisterium has indeed taken the road of creating a new “ecumenical” language such as by saying that the Old Testament in regards to the Jewish people has not been “revoked”. Most of the time this is associated with Romans 11 which says “For the gifts and the call of God are irrevocable.” The problem with this language in addressing the nature of the Old Testament is that it also leaves room for ambiguity. It is indeed true that the Old Testament has not been revoked in the sense that God has not gone back in regards to the call and promise that he has made with his Jewish people. But this particular language also undermines the reality that although this is true, the Old Covenant has in fact been abolished in so far as it has been superseded and fulfilled by Jesus Christ and His Church in the New Covenant. Many dissident individuals have indeed used this following language as a false dichotomy, whereby the rightful denial of one false position is used to implicate a heresy as the only logical alternative deduction, rather than offer the true theological distinction. In this case “not revoked” is often incorrectly and erroneously used to express that the Old Testament is salvific.

In the past few decades there has been the emergence of groups such as the “Commision for religious relations with the Jews” which has been led by dissident theologians as well as very liberal theologians including Walter Kasper and Cardinal Kurt Koch. Perhaps one of the most awful documents has recently been released by their organization titled The Gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable. It should first be noted that the document itself states that it is not doctrinal nor is it binding. Nevertheless one thing to point out is that as I stated above they use Romans 11 and Nostra Aetate as to cause theological confusion regarding our approach to the Jewish people. One of the worst and most scandalous passages from this recent documents states very erroneously that:

In concrete terms this means that the Catholic Church neither conducts nor supports any specific institutional mission work directed towards Jews. While there is a principled rejection of an institutional Jewish mission, Christians are nonetheless called to bear witness to their faith in Jesus Christ also to Jews, although they should do so in a humble and sensitive manner, acknowledging that Jews are bearers of God’s Word, and particularly in view of the great tragedy of the Shoah. (The gifts and calling of God are irrevocable 40)

Should we indeed share the Gospel with fellow Jews?

So based on this problematic development that has affected the modern Magisterium and many Catholic individuals does this mean that we should not share the gospel with Jewish individuals? Of course not. About a few weeks ago Taylor Marshall, a fine Catholic apologist, did an amazing podcast segment titled Should we share the Gospel with our Jewish friends? This podcast segment asks and simultaneously answers why we should indeed share the Gospel with our Jewish friends and other fellow Jewish individuals. Taylor Marshall goes on to refute a heretical theological view held by a handful of theologians including the dissident Walter Kasper in regards to a belief in “Bi-Coventalism” the belief that “There are two covenants in place (in effect) right now and that they are both salvific. Cardinal Kasper (and other dissident theologians) teach that the Old Covenant is still in effect, so you can received Trinitarian Baptism if you are Christian, and if you are Jewish you can be circumcised. If you are Catholic you can receive the Eucharist and if you are Jewish you can receive the Passover lamb, same graces same salvation. This view is obviously heretical for various reasons, namely that the nature of the Old Covenant in consistence with over 2000 years of Catholic Tradition and biblical exegesis has been “superseded,” (e.g., made void, obsolete, fulfilled). Throughout this article I will use the following words to describe the nature of the Old Covenant in relation with the New Covenant to describe how the Old Covenant is no longer in effect, and how the New Covenant (The Catholic Church) is now properly the New Israel.

Saint Peter to Jews

Christ and the Apostles proclaim the necessity of faith and conversion to Christ

I first want to start by pointing out that if it is indeed true that as the recent document “The gifts and calling of God are irrevocable” states, namely that the Church does not support any institutional mission to Jews” then that means that Jesus, and many of the apostles, including both Saints Peter and Paul were doing something that was incorrect, which is not only false to say but outright blasphemous. Did not Christ constantly say throughout the Gospels that “I was not sent but to the sheep that are lost of the house of Israel (that is the Jews).” (Matthew 15:24) and similarly before giving the apostles the mission (the sending off) to go preach the Gospel to all the nations of the Gentiles, Christ Himself first instructs them to first “go to the lost sheep of the house of Israel (The Jews)” (Matthew 10:6)

Similarly amongst all of the disciples, it is Saint Peter the first pope who first preaches to the Jews after the example of Christ. The most par excellent example of this is in Acts 2. This is known as Peter’s first sermon which took place right after the start of the Church through Pentecost, in which the disciples receive the Holy Spirit and which were similarly infused with the gifts of the Holy Spirit, along with a perfect knowledge and wisdom.

Saint Peter tells the Jews the following in Acts 2:

[21] And it shall come to pass, that whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord, shall be saved. [22] Ye men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man approved of God among you, by miracles, and wonders, and signs, which God did by him, in the midst of you, as you also know: [23] This same being delivered up, by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, you by the hands of wicked men have crucified and slain. [24] Whom God hath raised up, having loosed the sorrows of hell, as it was impossible that he should be holden by it. [25] For David saith concerning him: I foresaw the Lord before my face: because he is at my right hand, that I may not be moved.

[36] Therefore let all the house of Israel know most certainly, that God hath made both Lord and Christ, this same Jesus, whom you have crucified. [37] Now when they had heard these things, they had compunction in their heart, and said to Peter, and to the rest of the apostles: What shall we do, men and brethren? [38] But Peter said to them: Do penance, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ, for the remission of your sins: and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. [39] For the promise is to you, and to your children, and to all that are far off, whomsoever the Lord our God shall call. [40] And with very many other words did he testify and exhort them, saying: Save yourselves from this perverse generation.

[41] They therefore that received his word, were baptized; and there were added in that day about three thousand souls. [42] And they were persevering in the doctrine of the apostles, and in the communication of the breaking of bread, and in prayers. (Acts 2: 21-42)

Notice that Saint Peter, the first pope, is showing that it is through Christ that the Jews are to receive salvation. Saint Peter preaches the Gospel, the good news of Christ to the Jewish. He does not tell them that they are saved by the Old Covenant but that faith in Christ and the obtaining of the sacraments are necessary. Saint Peter reaffirms this true when the devout Jews ask him “what shall we do?”

In this case the recent document released by the Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews is outright contradicting both the bible, Christ, the Apostles, as well as the first pope, and the Church as a whole.

The Old Covenant is not salvific

One of the things to point out in regards to the Old Covenant is that it never was nor is now salvific to begin with. Yes it is true that God initially chose the Jewish people to begin the process of salvation history. It is precisely because Abraham was the most just and holy man living in his time that God chose Abraham to begin and continue his covenant. God did promise to Abraham that through him that all his subsequent generations would be greatly blessed. Based on this it is most definitely true that God made an “irrevocable promise” with Abraham in so far as that God would never go back on his promise. Even up to the present day he has not revoked that promise. However the reality is that God had always willed the salvation of all the human race. What the Pharisees and the scribes failed to realize at the time of Jesus was that the “chosen people” were not only to include the Israelites according to the flesh, namely those who were Hebrews by flesh but Israel according to faith, that is all those who would be part of the New Israel which is the Catholic Church through faith in Christ and through Trinitarian Baptism.

God chose the Jewish people to be groomed (so to speak) so that the nations could distinguish them from the rest of the world. This was so that the Jewish people could point out the Messiah to the rest of the world when He came. This is why the Mosaic Law had all of these rituals such as the imperfect animal sacrifices, as well as the 613 dietary and customary laws. Many Jews misunderstood this to be that only they would ever be God’s people and, for this reason had a hard time accepting the new Gentile converts. The Jewish people could indeed be said to be similar to “scaffolding,” that is a temporary structure by which to point out the finished product, when it is completed. Once the completed product (in this case the Church and Christ) had been accomplished then the scaffold was not necessary anymore. Now it could be said that the New Israel (the Church) is made up of those who are Israel by faith, that is all who believe in Christ (We will discuss the nature of the Church as the New Israel later in the article).

Similarly the Mosaic Law was never “salvific” to begin with but rather purgatorial in nature as a preparation for the true fulfillment of the promise God made to his nation Israel which was fulfilled in Jesus Christ. In other words no one was ever saved by the Old Covenant. It was always Christ who saved. Before the time of Christ all those just who died in the Old Law went to the “Limbo of the Fathers” “Abraham’s Bosom” to wait for the “harrowing of Hell” that is when Christ descended into “hell” to liberate all the just who died in anticipation of Christ. Not only was the Old Law never salvific it is not now salvific as well. It was always through Christ and His Church that anyone was and is saved.

The council of Florence stated the following in regards to the Old Covenant:

[The Holy Roman Church] firmly believes, professes and teaches that the legal prescriptions of the Old Testament or the Mosaic law, which are divided into ceremonies, holy sacrifices and sacraments, because they were instituted to signify something in the future, although they were adequate for the divine cult of that age, once our Lord Jesus Christ who was signified by them had come, came to an end and the sacraments of the new Testament had their beginning. Whoever, after the Passion, places his hope in the legal prescriptions and submits himself to them as necessary for salvation and as if faith in Christ without them could not save, sins mortally. It does not deny that from Christ’s passion until the promulgation of the Gospel they could have been retained, provided they were in no way believed to be necessary for salvation. But it asserts that after the promulgation of the gospel they cannot be observed without loss of eternal salvation.” (Council of Florence Cantate Domino) (On the fulfillment of Old Testament)

The Fulfilment “supersession” of the Old Covenant by the New Covenant and the Church as the New Israel

That being said with the coming, death, and resurrection of Christ, Jesus fulfilled and “superseded” that is abolished the Old Covenant. Supersessionism teaches that the Catholic Church supersedes the people of Israel in the Old Testament. Namely that the New Covenant fulfills the Old Testament. This furthermore states that the Gentiles and the rest of the world have been inserted and have become part of the New Israel. Namely that the gentiles have been made one with Israel according to faith.

Pope Pius XII makes it clear that by Christ the New Covenant has replaced the Old Covenant:

And first of all, by the death of our Redeemer, the New Testament took the place of the Old Law which had been abolished; then the Law of Christ together with its mysteries, enactments, institutions, and sacred rites was ratified for the whole world in the blood of Jesus Christ. For, while our Divine Savior was preaching in a restricted area – He was not sent but to the sheep that were lost of the House of Israel – the Law and the Gospel were together in force; but on the gibbet of His death Jesus made void the Law with its decrees fastened the handwriting of the Old Testament to the Cross, establishing the New Testament in His blood shed for the whole human race. “To such an extent, then,” says St. Leo the Great, speaking of the Cross of our Lord, “was there effected a transfer from the Law to the Gospel, from the Synagogue to the Church, from the many sacrifices to one Victim, that, as Our Lord expired, that mystical veil which shut off the innermost part of the temple and its sacred secret was rent violently from top to bottom.” (Mystici Corporis 29)

The prophet Jeremiah foretold a new covenant that was going to be made by God:

[31] 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 Juda: [32] Not according to the covenant which I made with their fathers, in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt: the covenant which they made void, and I had dominion over them, saith the Lord. [33] But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel, after those days, saith the Lord: 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. [34] (Jer 31:31-34)

Similarly Saint Paul in preaching the Gospel of Christ and of the mystical body of Christ shows how this prophecy had been fulfilled by Christ in the New Covenant:

For finding fault with them (The unfaithful Jews), he saith: Behold, the days shall come, saith the Lord: and I will perfect unto the house of Israel, and unto the house of Juda, a new testament: [9] Not according to the testament which I made to their fathers, on the day when I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt: because they continued not in my testament: and I regarded them not, saith the Lord. [10] For this is the testament which I will make to the house of Israel after those days, saith the Lord: I will give my laws into their mind, and in their heart will I write them: and I will be their God, and they shall be my people: (Heb 8:8-10)

The interesting thing to note is not only that both the prophet Jeremiah and Saint Paul talk about the New Covenant that was to be made by God and which was fulfilled by Christ and His Church, but it also shows that the Mystical Body of Christ (The Catholic Church) is in fact the New Israel. For as I stated above the New Israel (The Church) which had been prepared and preconceived by Christ in the Old Testament was to be the New Israel, that is it was meant to incorporate those who were not only “Israel” by flesh such as were the Hebrews, but all those who were Israel by faith, that is all those who believed in Jesus Christ and received Baptism. Saint Paul shows this reality in the third chapter of his Epistle to the Galatians in which he shows that it is precisely all those who believe in Christ that are to be called Israelites, namely Israelites through faith in Christ:

As it is written: Abraham believed God, and it was reputed to him unto justice. Know ye therefore that they which are of faith, the same are the children of Abraham. And the scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the heathen through faith, preached before the gospel unto Abraham, saying, In thee shall all nations be blessed. So then they which be of faith are blessed with faithful Abraham.

For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse: for it is written, Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them. But that no man is justified by the law in the sight of God, it is evident: for, the just shall live by faith. And the law is not of faith: but, The man that doeth them shall live in them. Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us: for it is written, cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree: That the blessing of Abraham might come on the Gentiles through Jesus Christ; that we might receive the promise of the Spirit by faith. (Galatians 3:6-14)

The Church is not anti-semetic but philo-semetic

With all this being said it should be noted that as Catholics both as individuals and as the mystical body of Christ as a whole we are not anti-semetic by preaching such truth but rather philo-semetic. That is that we have a genuine love of the Jewish people since the roots of the Catholic Faith are indeed Jewish and based on the Old Testament. This is indeed expressed in the book The Crucified Rabbi by Taylor Marshall, in which he states that we as Catholics rather than have a hatred of the Jewish people have a genuine love of them. The Jewish people still have a special place in God’s redemptive economy (Romans 11) and as Pope Benedict states “The Jewish people still continue to have an eschatological sign for the Church.” God is thus not finished with the Jewish people. The Church fathers, the

Alphonse and Theodore Ratisbonne. Two Jewish brothers who converted to the Catholic Faith. Both brothers became both priests and monks. After their conversion they sought to help convert the rest of their Jewish brethren.

Alphonse and Theodore Ratisbonne. Two Jewish brothers who converted to the Catholic Faith. Both brothers became priests as well as monks. After their conversion they sought to help convert the rest of their Jewish brethren.

Catechism, Saint Thomas Aquinas, Saint Paul, and many others teach that the Jewish people will convert to the Catholic Church and will receive Baptism before the end of times. Our desire then is to help share the truth of Christ so that the Jewish people with us can share in salvation and in obtaining the Eucharist, “the source and submit of the Christian life” (Lumen Gentium 11)

Is not the current failure and even refusal by many in the Church including the modern Magisterium itself of sharing the Gospel, the good news of Christ, with fellow Jews the most anti-semetic thing itself that anyone could do? If anyone deserves to come to know Christ it is the Jewish people whom “belongeth the adoption as of children, and the glory, and the testament, and the giving of the law, and the service of God, and the promises” (Romans 9:4). Sharing the Gospel about the Truth Himself, Jesus Christ, could then not be anything but a philo-semetic action, namely a profound act of divine Charity towards the Jewish people. How is not the failure and even refusal by many in the modern Magisterium not a slap to the face to Jesus Christ, and even the first pope, and the rest of the Apostles, alike with many of the Church Fathers, including Saint Thomas Aquinas and the Church as a whole? What shall we then say to the many Jewish converts to the Catholic Faith such as Saint Edith Stein, Alphonse and Theodore Ratisbonne, Hermann Cohen, and many others.

Yes we are indeed called to share the Gospel with our fellow Jewish friends and other Jewish individuals just as we are to share the Gospel with anyone who has been deprived of it.


Further Reading:

The Crucified Rabbi by Taylor Marshall (Saint John Press; 1st edition October 15, 2009)

Nostra Aetate Section 4

The Holocaust and Its Shaping of Catholic Ecclesiology

The Gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable” by the Comission for Religous Relations with the Jews

Should we share the Gospel with our Jewish friends?




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