March 31, 2013


The pope, the musicians and the Jews (Spengler, 5/10/05, Asia Times)

Despite heroic and well-intended labors stretching over half a century, the Catholic Church cannot come to terms with the Jewish side of Christianity, not, at least, in the way that American evangelicals do. As a theologian and exegete of the Bible, Benedict XVI believes that the Christian promise to the gentiles merely extends God's promise to the Jews, and he has expounded this view in numerous speeches and articles [4]. But that promise has small credibility if no living Jews are present to receive it. Few Jews remain in Europe outside of the half million in France, a community whose future status may be incompatible with the accommodation of 10 million Arab immigrants [5]. If the Vatican addressed large communities of observant Jews in Poland, for example, its message would resonate with the heavens. The nearest large population of Jews, however, is to be found in Israel, and therein lies a problem.

For a Catholic theologian, dependence on biblical exegesis rather than church tradition amounts to a revolutionary innovation. Benedict XVI broke with hoary church tradition when he argued (for example) that in the Epistles of Paul "the covenant with the Patriarchs is regarded as eternally in force". Scripture is not quite enough, however. American evangelicals of the past generation look not only to the promises of scripture, but also to the fact of Jewish continuity over more than three millennia. As the Reverend Pat Robertson observes, this makes credible God's promise to Abraham in the Hebrew scriptures. If God kept his promise to Abraham's seed, the argument continues, so well he may to Christians who enter into God's covenant through the crucifixion. If the Jewish people were to disappear, the Christian promise of salvation would die with it.

The German-Jewish theologian Franz Rosenzweig put it this way:

The Old Testament ... is more than a mere book. Had the Jews of the Old Testament disappeared from the earth like Christ, they would now denote the idea of the People, and Zion the idea of the Center of the World, just as Christ denotes the idea of Man. But the stalwart, undeniable vitality of the Jewish people, attested in the very hatred of the Jews, resists such "idealizing". Whether Christ is more than idea - no Christian can know it. But that Israel is more than idea, that he knows, that he sees. For we live. We are eternal, not as an idea may be eternal: if we are eternal, it is in full reality. For the Christian we are thus the really indubitable. The pastor who was asked for the proof of Christianity by Frederick the Great argued conclusively when he answered: "Your majesty, the Jews!" The Christians can have no doubts about us. Our existence stands surety for their truth.

Even more convincing for American evangelicals is Michael Wyschogrod's contention that God's love for all peoples begins with his particular love for the Jews. As the Methodist theologian R Kendall Soulen writes, "By allowing room for God's freedom to fall in love with Abraham, the gentiles gain a heavenly Father who is also concretely concerned with them, and not just with humanity in the abstract".

A crucial difference of opinion between Benedict XVI and the American evangelicals lies in the question of when Jews shall recognize Jesus as their Messiah. Although Benedict believes that Christians should not "force their faith" upon Jews and should live with them in mutual respect, he would prefer that they do so immediately. Although the evangelicals proselytize Jews to the endless annoyance of Jewish religious authorities, they believe that Jews will recognize Jesus only at the end of time. Liberal Jews object that the evangelicals wish for a new Battle of Armageddon in the Middle East, which is a silly complaint; on the contrary, the evangelicals mean that they would prefer that Jews remain Jews until Jesus extends an invitation in person.

American Protestantism, to be sure, was tinged with a Judaizing heresy from the outset (What makes the US a Christian nation, November 28, 2004). Founded by Protestant separatists who wished to bring a new chosen people to a new promised land, America may be the only country in the world in which Christians openly might adopt Rosenzweig's perspective.

It's surely significant that they're Americans, but both Father Richard John Neuhaus and Michael Novak have written compellingly about the essential unity of Judaism and Christianity and from a Catholic perspective.

[Originally posted: 5/09/05]

Posted by at March 31, 2013 5:30 AM

Judaism is an offshoot of Christianity. Go read the Letter to the Hebrews and the Syllabus of Errors. (How's that for throwing a hand grenade into the henhouse?) The line of faith is unbroken from Abraham, Moses, the Prophets, to Christ. Judiasm is the error of denying this fact of salvation history. Sorry for the bluntness, but why waste words: what Catholics believe about this has not changed, however it may be sugar-coated.

Posted by: Lou Gots at May 9, 2005 10:17 AM

Well, at least somebody's honest.

Posted by: Barry Meislin at May 9, 2005 11:36 AM

Anyone ever watch Rowan Atkinson's early 90s vid?

He comes down in a cravat, smoking jacket w/a clipboard and pen in hand.

Horns on his head, "Hello, I'm the Devil."

He starts divvying up everyone, Christians, the Jews were right.

Posted by: Sandy P. at May 9, 2005 11:53 AM

We'll take Jesus seriously when more Christians convert to Judaism.

Posted by: Joseph Hertzlinger at May 9, 2005 1:21 PM

I really don't care what either believes as long as they keep their hands to themselves and off of me and mine.

Posted by: Mikey at May 9, 2005 2:13 PM

Anyone interested in this topic should also check out an article from a few years back: Richard John Neuhaus, "Salvation is From the Jews, First Things (Nov. 2001).

Posted by: Mike Morley at May 9, 2005 2:31 PM

Right back at ya, Lou.

Posted by: David Cohen at May 9, 2005 2:37 PM

In another place (, Father Neuhaus notes that there were 6 million Jews in Jesus's time, and a few centuries later only 1 million rabbinic Jews but tens of millions of Christians; and suggests that there was a Jewish schism in the first century as Judaism split into Jewish Christians and rabbinic Jews, with most Jews choosing the Christian rather than the rabbinic branch. Perhaps Christianity was an early Reform Judaism.

However one interprets the history, from Christian eyes there must be an essential theological unity between Judaism and Christianity, for we accept all the core Jewish beliefs about God and their covenantal relationship with Him, and God cannot have dealt with mankind in two-sided fashion.

Posted by: pj at May 9, 2005 3:00 PM

I guess that is one way of putting it, pj. The other is simply to say that Lou is full of crap.

Posted by: Peter B at May 9, 2005 6:29 PM

Lou believes that salvation comes only through Jesus. Isn't that what Christians believe?

Posted by: David Cohen at May 9, 2005 7:02 PM

Salvation is through Jesus, but it's from the Jews, as Jesus said. Jesus could not have been other than a Jew, and Judaism remains the foundation of Christianity. So it's strange, counter-historical and counter-theological, to describe Judaism as an offshoot of Christianity, as though Christianity were the original plant.

Posted by: pj at May 9, 2005 9:30 PM
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