Salvation from the Jewish Jesus of Nazareth

Fr. Norbert Hofmann, S.D.B.

Secretary, Commission for Religious Relations with Judaism

L'Osservatore Romano (21 March 2007): 5


In 1965 the declaration of the Second Vatican Council Nostra Aetate initiated the official dialogue of the Catholic Church with Judaism.

It states: "Since Christians and Jews have such a common spiritual heritage, this Sacred Council wishes to encourage and further mutual understanding and appreciation. This can be obtained especially by way of biblical and theological enquiry and through friendly discussions" (n. 4).

Today, in reviewing these 42 years of dialogue and the developments and results recorded, we cannot but feel gratitude to God for the ground covered; indeed, a firmer friendship and deeper reciprocal understanding have taken root.

A particularly important sign of all this is the "Day of Judaism," which was recently celebrated in Italy, Austria, and Poland. This annual event has as its goal the revival of knowledge of the Jewish roots of Christianity and of the theological connection that binds Christianity and Judaism. Its date if 17 January in Italy and several other countries directly precedes the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity; in a certain sense, theologically speaking, it is as if we had broadened our vision to recognize the Jewish origins of our Church and of all Christian communities.

Our common root is constituted by Judaism up until the second destruction of the Temple in 70 A.D. The separation of the church from the synagogue was the first great division to have repercussions on the Church's life, and its effects were to be permanent.

Further divisions and distinctions between Christians occurred in the course of the centuries.

Thus, it is appropriate that the "Day of Judaism" should directly precede the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, although naturally, the purpose of interreligious dialogue differs from that of ecumenical dialogue among Christians.

While ecumenical dialogue aims for the "visible unity of the Church of Jesus Christ", the intention of interreligious dialogue is to foster reciprocal respect in friendship and collaboration for peace and justice in a mutual enrichment that enables each one to maintain his own identity. The dialogue between Jews and Christians fits into the context of interreligious dialogue but plays a quite special role of priority importance.

Christians, heirs to Jewish faith

The Judaeo-Christian tradition claims that God created man in his image and likeness (cf. Gn 1:26-27), endowing him with an inviolable dignity.

Both Jews and Christians recognize the holiness of human life since it comes from God. And Christians are inserted into the Jewish tradition of monotheism, which means the worship of the one and only God of Israel.

The then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, in an article published in the Italian edition of L'Osservatore Romano on 29 December 2000 entitled, "The heritage of Abraham, a Christmas gift", stressed the connection between faith in the God of Israel and the Christian faith.

He said: "The task of the Chosen People, therefore, is to give their God, the one true God, to all the other peoples and, in fact, we Christians are heirs to their faith in the one God."

This idea was also presented by the Jewish side in the theological Declaration of 10 September 2000 entitled Dabru Emet (A Jewish Statement on Christians and Christianity To Speak the Truth): "Before the rise of Christianity, Jews were the only worshippers of the God of Israel. But Christians also worship the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, Creator of Heaven and earth. While Christian worship is not a possible religious option for Jews... we rejoice that, through Christianity, hundreds of millions of people have been brought into contact with the God of Israel".

The very fact that Jews and Christians worship the one God and believe that man was created in the divine image highlights the specificity and oneness of the relationship between Judaism and Christianity, as Cardinal Ratzinger wrote in the article cited above: "It is obvious that for us Christians our dialogue with the Jews is on a different level than our dialogue with other religions. The faith to which the Bible of the Jews testifies, the Old Testament of Christians, is not, in our opinion, another religion but the basis of our faith".

This assertion is linked to what Pope John Paul II said in his Speech during his Visit to the Synagogue of Rome on 13 April 1986: "The Jewish religion is not 'extrinsic' to us, but in a certain way it is 'intrinsic' to our own religion. With Judaism, therefore, we have a relationship which we do not have with any other religion" (n. 4; L'Osservatore Romano English edition. 21 April 1986, p. 6).

In the light of these theological reflections, we see why the Holy See's Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews is located in the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity: to encourage dialogue with the Jews.

Every dialogue the Holy See has with other Churches and Religious Communities, with the religions and cultures of the world, has two dimensions: "ad intra" and "ad extra". All endeavours that have an impact on our Church and are destined for her are part of the dialogue "ad intra". This includes everything done to make the results and progress in the dialogue known at all ecclesial levels and to work out appropriate approaches and guidelines. The formation sector is particularly important in this context because it is the future generations that will be responsible for pursuing the dialogue with Judaism.

On the occasion of the 40th anniversary of the promulgation of Nostra Aetate, 27 October 2005, the Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews invited its consultors and the delegations of the Bishops' Conferences responsible for dialogue with Judaism (Interreligious dialogue) in those countries where there is a lively Jewish community.

Among the suggestions made, we were asked to deepen theological reflection so as to gradually develop a "Christian theology of Judaism".

In this perspective, a meeting of Catholic theologians was held from 19 to 22 October 2006 Ariccia, near Rome. It was organized by four Institutes for Dialogue with the Jews (Chicago, Boston, Louvain, Rome) to discuss certain theological topics. [Webmaster's note: This refers to the Christ and the Jewish People consultation.]

Since the promulgation of Nostra Aetate, there have been interesting theological developments in Catholic academic circles and deep reflections on how to give a new structure to the relationship between our Church and Judaism. The Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews will make its own contribution to accompanying these discussions.

Various unanswered theological questions exist, such as, for example, on the relationship between the Old and New Testaments; the relationship between the synagogue and the church in the context of historical development; the question of how to reconcile the Torah as a means of salvation for Jews and as the pre-condition for Christianity; the missionary nature of our Church in relation to Judaism.

However, no systematic general thought for a Christian theology of Judaism exists as yet, although several documents for reference have been drafted, such as the three texts of the Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews: "Guidelines and suggestions for Implementing the conciliar Declaration Nostra Aetate, n. 4", 1974; "Notes on the correct way to present the Jews and Judaism in preaching and catechesis in the Roman Catholic Church", 1985; "We remember: A Reflection on the 'Shoah'", 1998.

The dialogue "ad extra" concerns the contacts of the Holy See's Commission with Judaism in all its current forms and facets.

Different Trends within Judaism

Contemporary Judaism is multiform and variegated, and the distinction between orthodox, conservative, and liberal Judaism is only one of the many possibilities for its classification. The Commission attempts to establish and encourage dialogue with the various trends within Judaism. In this context, two institutionalized dialogues deserve special mention.

From the beginning of the dialogue inaugurated by the Second Vatican Council, the Commission has been in touch with the International Jewish Committee on Interreligious Consultations (IJCIC), an organization that includes almost all of the important Jewish agencies on the international scene.

Two meetings of the International Catholic-Jewish Liaison Committee (ILC) have been held in the past three years: in Buenos Aires, Argentina (5-8 July [2004]), on the theme "Justice and Charity"; in Cape Town, South Africa (4-7 November 2006), on the theme "Health Care -- Dignifying God's Image". At the end of each meeting, a Declaration was issued expressing the positions common to Jews and Catholics.

In Argentina, joint projects to fight the poverty caused by an acute economic crisis and to give special assistance to children suffering from malnutrition have been implemented.

In South Africa, a common project is being planned that will provide practical help in the struggle against AIDS.

In the international arena, there is more and more willingness to cooperate in the context of social justice. The atmosphere of these meetings was marked by a spirit of friendship and the desire to deepen our relations.

The other institutionalized dialogue is with the Grand Rabbinate of Israel. Inaugurated in 2002 following Pope John Paul II's Visit to Israel, it has become one of the principal pillars of relations between Judaism and the Holy See. In recent years six meetings organized on various topics have taken place in alternate years in Rome and Jerusalem.

Some of these meetings treated the theological context: the sanctity of human life, the values of the family, the importance of Sacred Scripture for society and education, social justice and ethical behaviour, the relationship between religious and civil authorities, the relationship between human life and technology.

This dialogue has started a "good tradition"; the two Chief Rabbis of Israel actually met Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI in Rome at Private Audiences. It has consequently been possible to note an important openness to dialogue with the Catholic Church also on the part of other Orthodox Jews, as well as a readiness to address religious topics in the discussions. The next meeting is scheduled to take place in Jerusalem this month.

If we consider the overall developments and actual situation of religious relations between Jews and Catholics, we can be profoundly grateful for the results achieved and look to the future full of confidence. The dialogue with Judaism involves our Christian identity itself, for Christianity must be understood as starting from its Jewish origins. God became man in the Jewish Jesus of Nazareth; this was not by chance but was decreed by God's saving plan.

In the fourth chapter of John's Gospel, in the conversation between Jesus and the Samaritan woman at Jacob's well, the matter of where it is right to worship God surfaced. Jesus told the woman that "salvation is from the Jews" (Jn 4:22), and that "true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth (Jn 4:23).

Salvation comes from the Jews, salvation comes from the Jewish Jesus of Nazareth, whom Christians recognize as the Christ and the Son of God, as the foundation of our Church.