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Seattle Catholic
A Journal of Catholic News and Views
16 Aug 2002
A Keel-haul of the Faith
   by Br. Alexis Bugnolo

Two centuries ago, one of the most horrific punishments the British Admiralty could impose on a rebellious crewman was to tie his legs to a rope and drag him under water across the keel of a ship. This torture was known as keel-hauling, and it usually resulted in the death of the offender.

Today the Catholic Church is under assault from all sides: both from without and from within. The latest and most egregious assault is that launched by the U.S. Catholic Bishops Committee for Ecumenical and Inter-religious Affairs, presided over by Cardinal Archbishop William Keeler of Baltimore. In the document entitled, "Reflections on Covenant and Mission" the joint committee, composed by the U.S. Catholic delegation and a group representing liberal American Judaism (known in Jewish circles as "Conservative Judaism"), called upon Catholics to reject any theological argument in favor of converting Jews to the Catholic Faith.

This wholly novel and heretical thesis was hailed by the US. Bishop's Office of Communications on Aug. 13 as another step in "the growing respect for the Jewish tradition that has unfolded since the Second Vatican Council." The Boston Globe, perhaps one of the most anti-Catholic and bigoted newspapers in the country, in a front page article entitled "Catholics reject evangelization of Jews" by Michael Paulson, lost all composure and described the document as an official alteration of Catholic teaching: "The Catholic Church, which spent hundreds of years trying forcibly to convert Jews to Christianity, has come to the conclusion that it is theologically unacceptable to target Jews for evangelization." (Aug. 13, p. 1) Cardinal Keeler greeted the document with these words, "This joint reflection marks a significant step forward in the dialogue between the Catholic Church and the Jewish community in this country." However, it should be clear to all informed Catholics that no committee report from any ecclesiastical body can alter the teaching of the Church.

These reports concerning the document are not exaggerations, however scandalous they may appear to the reader; for the argument advanced in "Reflections on Covenant and Mission" (hereafter ROCM), while attempting an over-haul the faith has in fact keel-hauled it; it eviscerates the truth of the Catholic Faith and the claims of Christ Jesus to be the Messiah by twisting the plain sense of scripture and by advancing concepts wholly at odds with the teaching of Christ and His Church.

To understand how grave and false is the thesis advanced in ROCM, it is sufficient to outline and examine the theological argument it propounds among the many quotes and footnotes of the document published by the USCCB. Such a study will show that it bases itself on the assertion that the Mosaic Covenant remains in force, and hence that it remains a source of salvation for Jews who reject Christ and His Church. ROCM does this succinctly in its Introduction, where it advances this argument,

Lets examine this argument point by point. First Nostra Aetate, the Vatican II document on the relations of the Church to non-Christian religions, which was published on October 28, 1965 says this about Romans 11:28-29, in paragraph 4d,

Indeed Romans 11:28-29 reads,

which I translate as,

As is clear, Romans here does not refer to keeping of the Mosaic Covenant, but rather to the Messiah promised to those who kept it. Indeed the learned Tridentine exegete, Father Cornelius a Lapide in his Commentarium in sacram scripturam, vol IX, writes

If one but considers the plain statement of ROCM, regarding Nostra Aetate, it is clear that is has ignored the context completely, namely that "As Holy Scripture testifies, Jerusalem did not recognize the time of her visitation,(cf. Lk. 19:44) nor did the Jews in large number, accept the Gospel; indeed not a few opposed its spreading.(cf. Rom. 11:28)" (NA n. 4d). And likewise, Nostra Aetate has ignored completely what St. Paul had written, for he describes his own people under two aspects, that of "being very dear to God on account of the Patriarchs" and "enemies of the gospel" (Rom 11:28). To say that they are very dear to God for the sake of their ancestors, in now way exonerates them for being enemies of the Gospel on account of their personal sin of refusing it. Inasmuch as they continue to refuse it, each and every Jew as a individual, if he refuses it, commits mortal sin and becomes an enemy of the Gospel, just like any believer, Muslim or pagan who likewise rejects it.

Nevertheless Cardinal Keeler is correct, there is a progress going on here; but it is not progressing towards the truth.

Secondly, ROCM refers to a statement made by Pope John Paul II, ("Address to the Jewish Community in Mainz, West Germany," November 17,1980), of which it quotes only one passage, "the people of God of the Old Covenant, never revoked by God." Without recourse to the document, it is not clear what the Pope intended by this statement.

But to say that the Mosaic Covenant has not been revoked in the normal manner of speech is contrary to the Faith, as can be clearly seen from scripture, tradition, and the teachings of the Church.

First, St. Paul himself in the Letter to the Hebrews says that the Prophet Jerimiah foretold the end of the Mosaic Covenant (Heb. 8:7ff), concluding by saying "Now in saying new, he hath made the former old. And that which decayeth and groweth old, is near its end." (Heb. 8:13), the context of which is obviously that now (the now of St. Paul) the Old Covenant had ended. Commenting on this passage Father a Lapide writes, "Since God through Jerimiah says, 'I shall consummate a new covenant', He openly signifies, that the first Mosaic covenant, the one in the time of Jerimiah, would in a little while be antiquated, grow old and fail, and hence not endure."

This reading has always been held in the Catholic Church; hence the infallible ecumenical Council of Florence in the papal bull, Cantate Domino, declared,

It is clear, therefore, that the Pope to ingratiate himself with the Jews has publicly voiced an opinion contrary to the faith, and that therefore all Catholics are bound not to accept this error; and indeed to reject it completely.. This is further enforced by what the Council of Florence taught in the same Bull,

So, to return to ROCM, it is clear now that it bases its argument on ignoring scripture and on a papal statement that likewise ignores the infallible papal teaching of Pope Eugene IV, to which all Catholics, including the Pope, are required to hold fast.

It continues its line of reasoning by quoting Cardinal Walter Kasper (whose nomination as a Cardinal even Cardinal Ratzinger opposed on doctrinal grounds) in saying:

I do not know where Cardinal Kasper gets his definitions, but perhaps he forgets what Our Lord Jesus Christ taught, "No one can come to the Father except through Me". Thus, there is no true Monotheism without Christ and since there is no true faith in Christ except through holding the Catholic Faith, and since properly speaking "mission" means in Sacred Scripture a "sending on God's behalf for the purpose of making His will known," there is no mission except in the proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. If Cardinal Kasper was correct, the Holy Spirit made a mistake on Pentecost, because among the first 3,000 to convert at the preaching of St. Peter were devout Jews from every nation.

More absurd even than this, ROCM argues that Christ's great Mandate to "baptise all nations" refers only to the Gentiles, since the Greek "ethnos" which means nations in English, is the translation of the Hebrew "goiim" which never refers to the Jewish people. I suppose it is not so improbable to Archbishop Keeler that he has an infallible gift to know what Hebrew words Our Lord used when He spoke on Ascension Thursday, since they are not recorded in any written document; but if you have no trouble in accepting the Archbishop's implicit claim to charismatic gifts, then ROCM will seem perfectly Catholic.

To summarize, the argument of "Reflections on Covenant and Mission" is wholly false. It distorts the plain meaning of scripture--which is a sacrilege according to St. Alphonsus dei Liguori--it elevates to the level of an infallible statement a comment made by Pope John Paul II during a visit to a German synagogue; it implicitly rejects the infallible teaching of the Ecumenical Council of Florence which emphatically states that the terms of the Old Covenant have ended and have been superseded by the New, so much so that to practice them now is a mortal sin; and it propounds an entirely novel definition of "mission", so as to embrace both Old and New Covenant terms in one, as if there were no distinction.

Ought we be shocked at the many statements in ROCM, by the Pope, by Cardinal Kasper and Keeler? Yes. But we ought not take scandal from them. Our Catholic Faith is based not on the faith of men, of whatever office or station in the Church, nor on their opinions, but on the Resurrection of Christ and the infallible teachings of the Church. Let us refute the errors of ROCM and let us pray that our pastors return from the errors they have fallen into, for Our Lord never promised that they would not as men fail, but only that they would not require us to accept their errors as a matter of faith. Let us hold fast to Christ speaking through Pope Eugene IV and thereby discern that He is not speaking to us through ROCM.

Br. Alexis Bugnolo

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