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,
"At the present moment in this process of renewal, the subjects of covenant and mission have come to the forefront. Nostra Aetate initiated this thinking by citing Romans 11:28-29 and describing the Jewish people as "very dear to God, for the sake of the patriarchs, since God does not take back the gifts he bestowed or the choice he made."(1) John Paul II has explicitly taught that Jews are "the people of God of the Old Covenant, never revoked by God,"(2) "the present-day people of the covenant concluded with Moses,"(3) and "partners in a covenant of eternal love which was never revoked."(4).
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,
"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) Nevertheless, God holds the Jews most dear for the sake of their Fathers; He does not repent of the gifts He makes or of the calls He issues-such is the witness of the Apostle.(cf. Rom. 11:28-29; cf. Lumen Gentium, AAS, 57 (1965) p. 20 11) In company with the Prophets and the same Apostle, the Church awaits that day, known to God alone, on which all peoples will address the Lord in a single voice and "serve him shoulder to shoulder" (Soph. 3:9).(Cf. Is. 66:23; Ps. 65:4; Rom. 11:11-32) " (official Vatican WWW Site English text)
Indeed Romans 11:28-29 reads,
"secundum evangelium quidem inimici propter vos secundum electionem autem carissimi propter patres, sine paenitentia enim sunt dona et vocatio Dei."
which I translate as,
"according to the Gospel indeed they are enemies for your sake; but according to election they are very dear on account of the Patriarchs, for without repentance are God's gifts and calling."
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
"sine paenitentia, in Greek 'ametameleta', that is, "unrepentables", that is immutable. Whence the codex of Basil reads 'ametableta', and the Syriac text renders this "God has not changed His gift and calling". The sense of this verse is this: Though the Jews were already incredulous, God nevertheless did not revoke that, which He gave absolutely, and/or promised, and consequently what He promised the Patriarchs, that is the calling, protection and love towards their sons, and most of all their conversion at the end of the world: for this God will insure these things..."
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 firmly believes, professes, and teaches that the matter pertaining to the law of the Old Testament, of the Mosaic law, which are divided into ceremonies, sacred rites, sacrifices, and sacraments, because they were established to signify something in the future, although they were suited to the divine worship at that time, after our Lord's coming had been signified by them, CEASED, and the sacraments of the New Testament began; and that whoever, even after the passion, placed hope in these matters of the law and submitted himself to them as necessary for salvation, as if faith in Christ could not save without them, sinned mortally. Yet it does not deny that after the passion of Christ up to the promulgation of the Gospel they could have been observed until they were believed to be in no way necessary for salvation; but after the promulgation of the Gospel it asserts that they CANNOT BE OBSERVED without the loss of eternal salvation. All, therefore, who after that time observe circumcision and the Sabbath and the other requirements of the law, it declares alien to the Christian faith and not in the least fit to participate in eternal salvation, unless someday they recover from these errors." (February 4, 1441--Florentine Calendar--)
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,
"It (the Catholic Church) firmly believes, professes, and proclaims that those not living within the Catholic Church, not only pagans, but also Jews and heretics and schismatics cannot become participants in eternal life, but will depart "into everlasting fire which was prepared for the devil and his angels" [Mat. 25:41], unless before the end of life the same have been added to the flock; and that the unity of the ecclesiastical body is so strong that only to those remaining in it are the sacraments of the Church of benefit for salvation, and do fastings, almsgiving, and other functions of piety and exercises of Christian service produce eternal reward, and that no one, whatever almsgiving he has practiced, even if he has shed blood for the name of Christ, can be saved, unless he has remained in the bosom and unity of the Catholic Church."
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:
"The term mission, in its proper sense, refers to conversion from false gods and idols to the true and one God, who revealed himself in the salvation history with His elected people. Thus mission, in this strict sense, cannot be used with regard to Jews, who believe in the true and one God. Therefore, and this is characteristic, there exists dialogue but there does not exist any Catholic missionary organization for Jews." (17th Meeting of the International Catholic-Jewish Liaison Committee in May 2001)
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