Centre for Dialogue and Prayer in Oświęcim

1985-06-24 Vatican Commission - Notes on the Correct Way to Present the Jews and Judaism in Preaching and Catechesis in the Roman Catholic Church

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Notes on the Correct Way to Present the Jews and Judaism in Preaching and Catechesis in the Roman Catholic Church

Vatican Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews

June 24, 1985

 

Preliminary Considerations

On March 6th, 1982, Pope John Paul II told delegates of episcopal  conferences and other experts, meeting in Rome to study relations between the Church and Judaism:

You yourselves were concerned, during your sessions, with Catholic  teaching and catechesis regarding Jews and Judaism. . . . 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 common to Jews and Christians.

In this passage, so charged with meaning, the Holy Father plainly drew inspiration from the Council Declaration Nostra Aetate, 4, which says:

All should take pains, then, lest in catechetical instruction and in the preaching of God's Word they teach anything out of harmony with the truth of the Gospel and the spirit of Christ; as also from these words: Since the spiritual patrimony common to Christians and Jews is thus so great, this sacred Synod wishes to foster and recommend mutual understanding and respect.

In the same way, the Guidelines and Suggestions for implementing the conciliar declaration Nostra Aetate (no. 4) ends its chapter III, entitled "Teaching and Education," which lists a number of practical things to be done, with this recommendation:

Information concerning these questions is important at all levels of Christian instruction and education. Among sources of information, special attention should be paid to the following:

  • catechisms and religious textbooks;
  • history books;
  • the mass media (press, radio, cinema, television).

The effective use of these means presupposes the thorough formation of instructors and educators in training schools, seminaries and universities" (AAS 77, 1975, 73).

The paragraphs which follow are intended to serve this purpose.

I. Religious Teaching and Judaism

1. In Nostra Aetate, 4, the Council speaks of the "spiritual bonds linking" Jews and Christians and of the "great spiritual patrimony" common to both and it further asserts that "the Church of Christ acknowledges that, according to the mystery of God's saving design, the beginning of her faith and her election are already found among the patriarchs, Moses and the prophets."

2. Because of the unique relations that exist between Christianity and Judaism "linked together at the very level of their identity" (John Paul II, 6th March, 1982)-relations "founded on the design of the God of the Covenant" (ibid.), the Jews and Judaism should not occupy an occasional and marginal place in catechesis: their presence there is essential and should be organically integrated.

3. This concern for Judaism in Catholic teaching has not merely a historical or archeological foundation. As the Holy Father said in the speech already quoted, after he had again mentioned the "common patrimony" of the Church and Judaism as "considerable:" "To assess it carefully in itself and with due awareness of the faith and religious life of the Jewish people as they are professed and practiced still today, can greatly help us to understand better certain aspects of the life pastoral of the Church" (italics added). It is a question then of pastoral concern for a still living reality closely related to the Church. The Holy Father has stated this permanent reality of the Jewish people in a remarkable theological formula, in his allocution to the Jewish community of West Germany at Mainz, on November 17th, 1980: "The people of God of the Old Covenant, which has never been revoked."

4. Here we should recall the passage in which the Guidelines and Suggestions (no. 1), tried to define the fundamental condition of dialogue: "respect for the other as he is," knowledge of the "basic components of the religious tradition of Judaism" and again learning "by what essential traits the Jews define themselves in the light of their own religion experience" (ibid., Introduction).

5. The singular character and the difficulty of Christian teaching about Jews and Judaism lies in this, that it needs to balance a number of pairs of ideas which express the relation between the two economies of the Old and New Testament:

  • Promise and Fulfillment
  • Continuity and Newness
  • Singularity and Universality
  • Uniqueness and Exemplary Nature.

This means that the theologian and the catechist who deals with the subject needs to show in his practice of teaching that: a) promise and fulfillment throw light on each other; b) newness ties in a metamorphosis of what was there before; c) the singularity of the people of the Old Testament is not exclusive and is open, in the divine vision, to a universal extension; and d) the uniqueness of the Jewish people is meant to have the force of an example.

6. Finally, "work that is of poor quality and lacking in precision would be extremely detrimental" to Judaeo-Christian dialogue (John Paul II, speech of March 6th, 1982). But it would be above all detrimental-since we are talking of teaching and education-to Christian identity (ibid.).

7. "In virtue of her divine mission, the Church" which is to be "the all-embracing means of salvation" in which alone "the fullness of the means of salvation can be obtained" (Unitatis Redintegratio, no. 3), "must of her nature proclaim Jesus Christ to the world" (cf. Guidelines and Suggestions, I). Indeed we believe that it is through Him that we go to the Father (Jn. 14:6) "and this is eternal life, that they know Thee the only true God and Jesus Christ whom Thou hast sent" (Jn. 17:3).

Jesus affirms that there shall be "one flock and one shepherd" (Jn. 10:16). The Church and Judaism cannot, then, be seen as two parallel ways of salvation and the Church must witness to Christ as the Redeemer for all, "while maintaining the strictest respect for religious liberty in line with the teaching of the Second Vatican Council declaration, Dignitatis Humanae" (Guidelines and Suggestions, no. 1).

8. The urgency and importance of precise, objective and rigorously accurate teaching on Judaism for our faithful follows too from the danger of anti-Semitism which is always ready to reappear under different guises. The question is not merely to uproot from among the faithful the remains of anti-Semitism still to be found here and there, but much rather to arouse in them, through educational work, an exact knowledge of the wholly unique "bond" (Nostra Aetate, no. 4) which joins us as a Church to the Jews and to Judaism. In this way, they would learn to appreciate and love the latter, who have been chosen by God to prepare the coming of Christ and have preserved everything that was progressively revealed and given in the course of that preparation, notwithstanding their difficulty in recognizing in Him their Messiah.


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