Address to Experts Gathered by the Pontifical Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews
March 6, 1982
Dear Brothers in the Episcopate and in the Priesthood, Sisters, Ladies and Gentlemen:
From different parts of the world we are here assembled in Rome to see where we stand regarding the important questions of relations between the Catholic Church and Judaism. And the importance of this problem is also underlined by the presence among you of representatives of the Orthodox Churches, of the Anglican Communion, of the Lutheran World Federation, and of the World Council of Churches, whom I am particularly happy to greet and to thank for their collaboration.
I express equally my gratitude to all of you who are here, bishops, priests, religious and lay men and women. Your presence here, just as your involvement in pastoral activities or in the domain of biblical and theological research, reveals to what extent the relations between the Catholic Church and Judaism touch on different aspects of the life and activities of the Church.
And this, one can easily understand. The Second Vatican Council said in effect in its declaration on the relations between the Church and the non-Christian religions [Nostra Aetate, 4]: "As this Sacred Synod searches into the mystery of the Church, it recalls the spiritual bond linking the people of the New Covenant with Abraham's stock." And I myself have had an opportunity to say so on more than one occasion: "our two religious communities are connected and closely related at the very level of their religious identities" [cf. Address, March 12, 1979, to the representatives of Jewish Organizations and Communities]. Indeed, and it is again the very text of the declaration [Nostra Aetate, 4], "the Church of Christ acknowledges that, according to the mystery of God's saving design, the beginnings of her faith and her election are already found among the patriarchs, Moses and the Prophets . . . . The Church, therefore, cannot forget that she received the revelation of the Old Testament through this people . . .. Also the Church ever keeps in mind the words of the Apostle about his kinsmen who have the adoption as sons, and the glory and the covenants and the legislation and the worship and the promises, who have the fathers, and from whom is Christ according to the flesh [Rom. 9:4-5], the son of the Virgin Mary."
This means that the links between the Church and the Jewish people are founded on the design of the God of the Covenant and--as such--have necessarily left their traces in certain aspects of the institutions of the Church, particularly in her liturgy.
Certainly since the appearance, two thousand years ago, of a new branch from the common root, relations between our two communities have been marked by the misunderstandings and resentments with which we are familiar. And if, since the day of the separation, there have been misunderstandings, errors, indeed offenses, it is now our task to leave these behind with understanding, peace, and mutual respect. The terrible persecutions suffered by the Jews in different periods of history have finally opened the eyes of many and appalled many people's hearts. Christians have taken the right path, that of justice and brotherhood, in seeking to come together with their Semitic brethren, respectfully and perseveringly, in the common heritage that all value so highly. Should it not be pointed out, especially to those who remain skeptical, even hostile, that this reconciliation should not be confused with a sort of religious relativism, less still with a loss of identity? Christians, for their part, profess their faith unequivocally in the universal salvific significance of the death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth.
Yes, the clarity and affirmation of our Christian identity constitute an essential basis if we are to have real, productive, and durable ties with the Jewish people. In this sense, I am happy to know that you dedicate much effort in study and prayer together, the better to grasp and formulate the sometimes complex biblical and theological problems which have arisen because of the very progress of Judeo-Christian dialogue. Work that is of poor quality or lacking in precision would be extremely detrimental to dialogue in this field. May God allow Christians and Jews really to come together, to arrive at an exchange in depth, founded on their respective identifies, but never blurring it on either side, truly searching the will of God the Revealer.
Such relations can and should contribute to a richer knowledge of our own roots, and will certainly cast fight on some aspects of the Christian identity just mentioned. Our common spiritual patrimony is very large.
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 of the Church. Such is the case of liturgy whose Jewish roots remain still to be examined in depth, and in any case should be better known and appreciated by our faithful. The same is true of the history of our institutions which, since the beginning of the Church, have been inspired by certain aspects of the synagogue community organization. Finally, our common spiritual patrimony is particularly important when we turn to our belief in only one God, good and merciful, who loves men and is loved by them [cf. Wis. of Sol. 24:26], Lord of history and of the destinies of men, who is our Father and who chose Israel, "the good olive tree onto which have been grafted the wild olive branches, those of the gentiles" [Nostra Aetate, 4; cf. also Rom. 11:17-24].
This is why you yourselves were concerned, during your sessions, with Catholic teaching and catechesis regarding Jews and Judaism. On this particular point, as on many others, you have been guided and encouraged by the Guidelines and Suggestions for Implementing the Conciliar Declaration Nostra Aetate, No. 4, published by the Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews [see chapter 3]. 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 we have sketched above.
It is ultimately on such a basis that it will be possible to establish - as we know is happily already the case - a close collaboration toward which our common heritage directs us, in service of man and his vast spiritual and material needs. Through different but finally convergent ways we will be able to reach, with the help of the Lord who has never ceased to love his people [cf. Rom. 11:1], this true brotherhood in reconciliation and respect and to contribute to a full implementation of God's plan in history.
I am happy to encourage you, dear brothers and sisters in Christ, to continue on the path that has begun, using discernment and trust and at the same time with great faithfulness to the Church's Magisterium. In such a way you will render the Church a great service which flows from her mysterious vocation. This should contribute to the good of the Church itself, of the Jewish people, and of the whole of humanity.