The Covenant and the Jewish-Christian Dialogue
A Response to Rabbi Norman Solomon and Cardinal Walter Kasper
C. Boys, s.n.j.m.
Theological Seminary, New York City
It is a privilege to respond to
these learned and wise papers. I
understand my role as respondent to be modest:
to highlight a few points and to pose some questions that will stimulate
discussion. If Rabbi Solomon (from
Oxford) and Cardinal Kasper (from the Vatican) will pardon me for drawing an
analogy from the American national pastime, my role is like the lead-off
hittersimply get on base and hope to rally the rest of the team.
Whether I will be as successful as Ichiro (Suzuki, of the Seattle
Mariners [American Leagues most valuable player in 2001 famous for his
ability to get on base]) remains to be seen.
I will address both papers in the
order in which Rabbi Solomon and Cardinal Kasper spoke last evening while also
indicating points of connection. My
focus will be on the implications of their papers for relations between
Christians (especially Catholics) and Jews.
Rabbi Solomons paper addressed questions about covenant
in a fresh manner. In particular, I
find his argument about the metaphorical nature of covenant provocative.
If covenant is indeed a metaphor conveying Israels self-understanding
in relation to God, what, then, does this claim allow?
What does it disallow? Rabbi
Solomon answers the latter question in part in his assertion that argument over
who has the covenant or whose is superior is an essentialist error.
The polemic of our respective ancestors in faith (see Kasper, p. 6)
hardened the metaphor into doctrine, making what is a beautiful yet plastic
metaphor into an object of ownership.
Thus, recognizing the metaphorical character of covenant precludes Jews
and Christians arguing over who possesses it, and, by implication, makes
debate about the one-covenant or two covenant theories (see Kasper, p.7)
Among the numerous covenants (Solomon, p. 3), three are
primary: with the environment, with
all humanity and with Israel as a nation of faith.
These, of course, are the primary covenants of Tanakh.
Those of us who accept the revelatory character of the New Testament
would add a fourth great biblical covenant:
the new covenant made possible by the life, death and resurrection
of Jesus of Nazareth. While this claim is obviously incompatible with Israels
faith, presumably Rabbi Solomon would not preclude the possibility of this
fourth great covenant, since he writes that Israels intimate covenant
relationship with God does not exclude some other nation, religion, or group
perceiving itself in an intimate covenantal relationship with God (p. 11).
To speak of relational distinctiveness allows a pluralist
perspective on covenants.
A parenthetical observation: Even as I was reflecting on this point, my eye fell on the
Book of Mormon, Another Testament of Jesus Christ. Might Rabbi Solomons contention about the metaphorical
character of covenant be of help to Christians in sorting out how we assess the
Mormon supersessionist claim?
Given the important implications of Rabbi Solomons
categorization of covenant as metaphor, we will benefit from further discussion
of his argument. At least two other
points deserve discussion as well. In
light of his pluralist perspective on covenant, how would he respond to Cardinal
Kaspers inquiry about Judaisms judgment about other religions?
And what is the significance of the rearrangement of the order of his
fourteen theses in the conclusion?
I turn now to Cardinal Kaspers paper, taking up the
topic of images and then of what it might mean to have a developing theology of
First, images. Cardinal
Kasper works primarily with two: the olive tree and bridges.
Since Phil Cunningham will address the image of olive tree in his
response, I will speak about bridges, especially since Rabbi Joe Ehrenkrantz
also brought this to our attention in last evenings discussion.
Cardinal Kasper uses the image of bridge in two ways.
In his conclusion, he points to the need to build bridges, and then dares
us to walk on bridges that have existed as long as we have existed as Jews
and Christians (p. 10). Yes, we
have always had bridges, but for many years these bridges have been very tenuousmore
of the rope variety in which one feels at peril!
Earlier in his paper (p. 3), he speaks about Pope John Paul II as one who
has constructed bridges throughout his life, and points first to the popes
longstanding friendships with Jews.
I wish to develop this point because I believe friendships
between Christians and Jews are of the utmost importance in furthering mutual
understanding. If covenant is
primarily about relationship with God and one another, then friendships are a
key embodiment of covenant. When
friendships have not been possible, serious divisions arise between us.
We have not paid sufficient attention to the consequences of those
regional medieval councils between 465 and 694 that essentially segregated
Christians from Jews. Once we no longer knew one another as human beings, it
became all too easy to reify and dehumanize the religious other.
I believe this medieval conciliar legislation was a major cause of the
enmity that developed between our two communities in the High Middle Ages. If
Christians all too readily demonized Jews, it was in large measure because we no
longer knew them.
Contemporary theologians today are beginning to address the
significance of friendship for interreligious understanding.
James Fredericks, a Catholic priest from Los Angeles and scholar of
Buddhism who writes under the rubric of comparative theology, speaks of interreligious
friendships as relationships that promote understanding between believers
in helping them locate the text not merely within its historical context but
also within its living, existential context.
Interreligious friendships are both destabilizing and empowering.
The stranger may pose a threat to our current self-understanding, but
also may bring the power to liberate us for a new and welcome
Michael Barnes, an English Jesuit who is a scholar of Hinduism, reminds us that
dialogue is first and foremost not an intellectual activity but a religious one.
He suggests, following Raimundo Panikkar, that we need a a theory of interpenetration,
not the theological colonialism of Anonymous Christianity.
This implies a theology of
dialogue rather than for dialogue. Barnes emphasizes the necessity of interior dialogue in
proposing a Spirit-centered theology of religions. Dialogue is not simply a more civilized form of mission;
it is about learning who the other is in order to find out who I am.
It requires spiritual preparation: dialogue forces usmyself and the
otherto find the ground of our common search in the Divine.
Such dialogue requires a commitment, an honesty and a willingness to
learn, qualities which are as difficult to sustain as the single-minded zeal
which so much characterized the greatest of the old missionaries.
Fredericks and Barnes argue is that relationships between persons of different
religious traditions help us to take differences seriously.
They become a way of gaining a sense of the thick texture of
another tradition, and serve as a catalyst for us to return to our home
tradition with new questions that stretch our horizons and invite deeper
turn now to a densely worded, two-sentence paragraph in Cardinal Kaspers
paper that I propose to exegete briefly. The
This overview of the question of the Covenant has led us directly to the central issue of the Jewish-Christian dialogue: what is the relation between the old Covenant, which is still valid, and the new Covenant, which is described by the New Testament as the eternal Covenant?
Rabbi Solomons paper raises the question of whether our
language of new covenant, while firmly embedded in Christian tradition,
does not invite invidious comparison with the old. There is no single old covenant. And if this covenant is still valid, is it not also
eternal? Perhaps we
Christians have not sufficiently wrestled with the metaphorical character of
new; by flattening its metaphorical character, we gloss over the
complexity of covenant and preclude pluralism.
I realize this is a major challenge for Christian theology, but since the
theology of the covenant is not static (p. 5), it is a point at least worth
It is the second sentence of this same paragraph that
raises an even more significant question for me:
It is clear that, in the same way
as we have rejected the replacement theory, we must also reject any relativistic
pluralism or undifferentiated dualism, in the sense of the simplistic
co-existence of two realities.
This complicated sentence invites commentary.
First, I underline the significance of the Cardinals rejection of
replacement theory (or supersessionism). I
wish this theory a happy deathwhile it may be mortally ill in certain
theological and ecclesial circles, it is, unfortunately, all too well in
pastoral and catechetical contexts.
Second, Cardinal Kasper rejects relativistic pluralism
(emphasis my own). I understand
these to be theories of pluralism that dissolve differences, such as the claim
of John Hick that all religions should be regarded as different responses to the
same ultimate reality. Typically,
these theories work from the typology of exclusivism, inclusivism and pluralism.
But this typology typical of the school of relativistic
pluralism does not exhaust theological approaches to pluralism.
Indeed, thinkers such as Fredericks and Barnes, and a host of others,
offer alternative understandings that if not yet fully adequate theologies of
pluralism, are nonetheless promising. Thus,
we ought not to confuse (let alone condemn) the approach of one school of
thought with all theologies of pluralism.
Third, the Cardinal rejects undifferentiated dualism, in
the sense of the simplistic co-existence of two realities.
I am not entirely sure what he means here, but I think he may be pointing
to a statement in the 1985 Notes on the Correct Way to Present the Jews and
Judaism in Preaching and Catechesis in the Roman Catholic Church: Church
and Judaism cannot then be seen as two parallel ways of salvation. . . .
I wish to take issue with the adequacy of the phrase two
parallel ways of salvation. Do
we not have an obligation to pursue the theological implications of our
(belated) recognition of the continuing validity of Gods covenant
relationship with Israel? If
the covenant was never revoked, if Gods favor is still with Israel,
obliging Jews to live their vocation in the world in response to Gods
faithfulness, then how should we articulate their relationship with us? Is it not incumbent upon us to pursue our claimnegatively
wordedfurther and in the positive? Can we not provide what John Pawlikowski
speaks of as theological space for Judaism?
Can we not finally admit that since Gods covenant with
the Jewish people remains in force, that Torah is a true path to God, a true
path to salvation?
Judaism and Christianity are not parallel ways of
salvation, an undifferentiated dualism. Rather, they are intersecting
pathways in which we meet each other at various junctures on our journeys of
This has profound implications for a theology of mission.
Cardinal Kasper, in his paper for the 17th meeting of the International
Catholic-Jewish Liaison Committee (ILC) in New York City (April 20-May 4, 2001),
said that Catholics do not have a mission to Jews:
Thus mission, in this strict
sense [conversion from false gods and idols to the true and one God] cannot be
used with regard to Jews, who believe in the true and one God.
Thereforeand this is characteristicthere does not exist any
Catholic missionary organization for Jews. There is dialogue with Jews, not
mission, in the proper sense of the word, toward them.
Yes. Can we
now go further, and acknowledge that we have no mission because Judaism is a
true way to salvation?
Thinking of Jews and Christians as meeting on intersecting
pathways on the journey of faith reminds me of Martin Bubers image of the
narrow ridge. He proposed
this metaphor as an alternative to absolutist positions: On the far side of the subjective, on this side of the
objective, on the narrow ridge, where I and Thou meet, there is the realm of the
The narrow ridge expressed his sense that the he did not rest on the
broad upland of a system that includes a series of sure statements about the
absolute, but on a narrow rocky ridge between the gulfs where there is no
sureness of expressible knowledge but the certainty of meeting with the One who
Those who would be partners of the religious other
may indeed walk along the narrow ridge. We
are daring a walk our ancestors in faith were not able to take.
Our position may feel precarious at times, but in seeing one another more
truly, we catch glimpses of the Holy Other who draws us together in covenantal
James L. Fredericks, Interreligious Friendship: A New Theological
Virtue, Journal of Ecumenical Studies
35/2 (1998): 168.
Michael Barnes, Christian Identity and Religious Pluralism
(Nashville Abingdon, 1989),
Christian Identity and Religious Pluralism, p. 115.
 Walter Kasper, The Good Olive Tree, America 185/7 (September 17, 2001): 14.
 Martin Buber, The Way
of Response (New York: Schocken, 1966), p. 55.
The Way of Response,