Catholic Teaching on Judaism and the Jewish People since Vatican II: Theological and Pastoral Implications for the Caribbean Church by Dr. Everard Johnston [Thirteenth Conference] June 11-15, 2007

1.   Introducing the Topic


This paper is being presented at this conference under the general heading of inter-religious dialogue, and the initial response to its title, for many participants from the Eastern Caribbean, would be, I suspect: “But we have no Jews here with whom to engage in dialogue!”  True, by and large.  In fact, I am aware that many Catholics and other Christians in our part of the world are even not aware of Judaism as a living religion and think of “Jews” only as those people who shouted “Crucify him!” on the first Good Friday.  However, Curacao does claim the oldest synagogue in continuous use in the Western Hemisphere.  The Mikve Israel-Emanuel Synagogue was established in 1651 by twelve families of Jews from Amsterdam and still has an active Jewish community.  Last year the Jewish community in Kingston established a Jewish Heritage Centre to celebrate 350 years of Jewish presence in Jamaica. The Jewish presence in Suriname also dates to the second half of the seventeenth century, and in Barbados the synagogue in Bridgetown, which was likewise first established in the 1650’s was, in the 1980’s, restored as a place of worship after a hiatus of some sixty years.


There is no longer a functioning synagogue in Trinidad as there was in the 1940’s and 1950’s, since almost all the Jews who had fled Nazi persecution in Austria and Germany and settled in Trinidad from about 1938 have either died – there is a Jewish section in the Mucurapo cemetery in Port-of-Spain – or migrated with their families to other countries) (cf. de Verteuil, p.193).  There is, however, a group I have been in contact with in Trinidad (and I suspect similar groups are to be found in other parts of the Caribbean as well) that shares characteristics of what is broadly described as the “Two House Messianic Movement”.  The latter is a theological movement which holds that Israel is divided into two “Houses”, the house of Judah (comprising the tribes of Judah and Benjamin – the “Jews” of the present day) and the house of Joseph (comprising the other ten tribes who are scattered all over the world since the time, according to the group I met, of the fall of the Northern Kingdom of Israel – cf. 2Kgs.17: 1-23), who belong to various racial groups and are not normally seen or recognized as “Jews”).  The group I met is very Jewish in belief and religious practice: their leader is called “Rabbi” and they observe the commandments of the Torah e.g. they eat only kosher food; they observe the Sabbath (though not on Saturday but on the seventh day after the new moon); they also observe the annual Jewish festivals laid down in the Torah (Passover/Pesach; Tabernacles/Sukkot; Day of Atonement/Yom Kippur, etc.); their males are circumcised and wear fringes (Hebrew: tzit tzit) on their clothes (cf. Num.15:38-39).  They also use a fair amount of Hebrew in their worship, their worship space is arranged very much like that of a synagogue and men wear a kippah or yarmulke (skull-cap) during worship and, in some cases, even as part of their everyday dress.  However, the New Testament (referred to by its Hebrew equivalent: Brit HaHadasha) is also included in their belief system and they refer to Jesus as Yeshua HaMashiach, i.e. Jesus the Messiah.  In a word, their faith might be broadly described as “Torah-observant Messianic Judaism”.


Whatever the situation regarding the actual presence of Jews or Judaism in the various territories of our region, however, the main focus of this paper is not on dialogue with Jews as such, though that is certainly important and to be recommended in areas where they are present, but rather on theological and pastoral issues, relevant to us in the Caribbean, that arise out of Catholic teaching since Vatican II on Judaism and the Jewish people (whether or not there is actual presence of Jews within a given context). This (Vatican II and post-Vatican II) teaching has been influenced in no small measure by the fact of the Shoah (the Hebrew word meaning “catastrophe” which is the term nowadays generally preferred by Jews to refer to what has been called the “Holocaust”), in particular the acknowledgement of the fact that various forms of Anti-Judaism, beginning with some New Testament writings and continuing throughout the history of Christianity, have contributed to the development, in modern times, of the racist doctrine of Anti-Semitism. A Jesuit professor of the Pontifical Gregorian University (Rome) puts it as follows:

[T]he opposition between Jews and Christians has, in the course of the centuries, given rise to forms of Anti-Judaism which led to a one-sided reading of the Holy Scriptures and to exaggerated, triumphalistic ideas of the Church and its vocation.  A widely-spread Anti-Judaic way of teaching the doctrine of the faith has been made use of to justify forms of oppression and persecution that, in certain social and political situations developed into outright mass murder, which culminated in the attempts of systematic extermination of Jews by German Nazi powers and their lackeys between 1938 and 1945 (Roest Crollius, p.3-4).


My concern here is with what Roest Crollius describes as “a widely-spread Anti-Judaic way of teaching the doctrine of the faith”, a way of teaching that has been inherited and perpetuated by the churches in our part of the world. It is a way of teaching that has traditionally set Jesus and his teaching over against Jews and Judaism and that characterized Jews, all Jews, past and present, as “Christ killers” (one thinks of the controversies stirred up at the time of the release of Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ, and the fallout with regard to the anti-Jewish slurs he allegedly uttered when, in July last year, he was arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol).  Here, of course, it must be acknowledged that the New Testament gospels are, as Salmon puts it, “primary sources for perpetuating anti-Jewish stereotypes” (Salmon, p.29). Moreover, it is perhaps understandable that a text such as Mt.27:25 has been widely understood by Christians as imputing guilt for the crucifixion of Jesus to all Jews. For in that text, in the face of Pilate’s attestation that he is “innocent of this man’s (Jesus’) blood” and his accompanying symbolic act of washing his hands (Mt.27:24), we read: “the people as a whole answered: ‘His blood be on us and on our children’” (Mt..27:25).  It is in light of widespread Christian interpretation of this text as imputing the guilt for Jesus’ death to all Jews, past and present, that Nostra Aetate of Vatican II, the Declaration on the Relation of the Church to Non-Christian Religions, stated clearly:

Even though the Jewish authorities and those who followed their lead pressed for the death of Christ (see Jn.19:6), neither all Jews indiscriminately at that time, nor Jews today, can be charged with the crimes committed during the passion [of Jesus] (Art. 4; cf. Boys, p.22-23).


Since the promulgation of Nostra Aetate on October 28, 1965, however, and starting from premises articulated in that document, there have been a number of developments in the teaching of the ordinary magisterium of the Catholic Church on the subject of the relation between the Church and the Jewish People which, it seems to me, have profound and far reaching theological and pastoral implications for the whole church.  Although it is somewhat artificial to separate the theological from the pastoral, I shall deal first with the more theoretical or speculative issues that arise from these developments and I shall conclude by exploring some pastoral issues, that is to say some practical issues that would affect Church life in our region.



2.   Theological Issues : the covenant “which has never been revoked…”


One of the most consistent themes of Christian teaching regarding the Jewish people from the age of the Church Fathers and right up to the present has been that the Church as the new Israel, is the new People of God and as such has replaced the Israel of old, the Jewish people, as the heirs of God’s promises.  This has not infrequently been accompanied by the teaching that the covenant between God and the Jewish people that was concluded at Mt. Sinai has been annulled, basically on account of the fact that the Jews, as a people, did not accept Jesus as the Christ.  In place of and superseding that “old” covenant is the new covenant sealed in the blood of Jesus Christ. This theological position, with which I am sure most Christians in our region are quite familiar, is nowadays known as “supersessionism” (cf. Salmon, p.36-73).  Marilyn Salmon describes some typical characteristics of supersessionism as follows:

The most overt expressions of supersessionism include the following: the Jews rejected Jesus; the Old Testament shows the Jews as disobedient and unrepentant; Judaism at the time of Jesus knew only a transcendent, remote God; Judaism in the first century was defined by hypocritical legalism and obsession with ritual apart from any spiritual motives, the Pharisees serving as primary example; the Old Testament describes a God of wrath, in contrast to the God of love in the New Testament.  Because of their faithlessness and obduracy therefore, God rightly rejected the Jews in favor of the predominantly Gentile Church (Salmon, p.36; cf. Boys, p.21-22).


Many texts of the New Testament can be seen to give rise to this theological position. Regarding, for example, God’s alleged rejection of the Jews “in favor of the predominantly Gentile Church”, there is the text of the Letter to the Hebrews where, citing Jer.31: 31-33, the author asserts that Jesus is the mediator of the new and, he argues, superior covenant that was foretold by the prophet Jeremiah, and asserts that God “[i]n speaking of a new covenant…treats the old one as obsolete”; adding furthermore: “And what is obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish” (Heb.8:13).  There is, to quote another example, Jesus’ well-known tirade against “the Scribes and the Pharisees” in Mt.23:1-36, where the latter are repeatedly described as “hypocrites”.  In John’s Gospel, those who oppose Jesus are often simply “the Jews” (e.g. Jn.7:1, 13; 9:22; 10:31).  What is more, New Testament scholarship in the last century, which was heavily influenced by Rudolf Bultmann and other German scholars, did much to reinforce this position as  Salmon, citing the following text from Bultmann, points out:

As interpretation of the will, the demand of God, Jesus’ message is a great protest against Jewish legalism [sic] – i.e. against a form of piety which regards the will of God as expressed in the written Law and in the Tradition which interprets it, a piety which endeavors to win God’s favor by the toil of minutely fulfilling the Law’s stipulations (Bultmann, quoted in Salmon, p.56).


Salmon also points out, however, that “Bultmann and his students did not base their understanding of Judaism on any primary Jewish texts.  They relied on secondary sources, by Christians, for their conception of Judaism” (Salmon, p.57; p.165, n.20). In recent years, however, a great deal of historical research has shown that much of the Anti-Jewish polemic found in the gospels, for example, is a retrojection of later animosities between Christians and Jews back to the life and time of Jesus (cf. e.g. Boys, p.49-57).  Levine, on the other hand, points out rightly, I believe, that while historical research can show and has shown a different side to the issue of the interpretation of the strongly anti-Jewish texts of the New Testament, “[t]he only resolution to the question of New Testament anti-Judaism cannot come from historians” (Levine, p. 116; my emphasis). For, on the one hand, historical research is subject to the vagaries of the availability of historical evidence and to the interpretation of that evidence; and on the other hand, the anti-Jewish-sounding texts are there in the New Testament which is read in the worship services of the Christian churches, in which context the subtleties of historical explanation of those texts is usually inappropriate. Levine therefore adds: “The elimination of anti-Jewish readings must come from the theologians, from those members of the church who conclude that anti-Judaism is wrong and who insist on Christian sensitivity to the issue” (Levine, p.116).  This, I believe, is a task that faces us as theologians.


On what basis, then, despite the presence of those very strongly anti-Jewish texts in the New Testament, and despite the weight of almost two thousand years of “supersessionist” Christian interpretation of and commentary on those texts, can we arrive at the conviction that “anti-Judaism is wrong”?  Here, I believe, Nostra Aetate provides another crucial teaching, one which has been repeated and elaborated on especially by Pope John Paul II and his successor Benedict XVI.  I quote from Nostra Aetate:

As holy scripture testifies, Jerusalem did not recognize God’s moment when it came (see Lk.19:42).  Jews for the most part did not accept the Gospel; on the contrary, many opposed its spread (see Rom.11:28).  Even so, the apostle Paul maintains that the Jews remain 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.(See Rom.11:28-29; see Vatican Council II, Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium.) – Art.4.

“God does not take back the gifts he bestowed or the choice he made” says the text of Nostra Aetate, thereby evoking the text of Paul in Rom.11:29: “…the gifts and calling of God are irrevocable” (my emphasis).  In line with this, Pope John Paul II referred to the Jews in a speech delivered in 1980 as “the people of God of the Old Covenant, never revoked by God, the present-day people of the covenant concluded with Moses” (quoted in Boys, p.23; my emphasis).   In 1987 the same pope referred to the Jews as “partners in a covenant of eternal love which was never revoked” (quoted in Boys, p.23; my emphasis).  Referring to these two oft-cited statements of John Paul II, Mary Boys writes:

Both references continue to be widely cited, but are given no further explication in papal documents.  Yet once such a reversal of thought appears in papal speech – without, of course, any indication that centuries of Christian teaching and preaching had presented the covenant with the Jewish people as cancelled – commentaries and developments follow (Boys, p.23; my emphasis).

The “reversal of thought” regarding the validity of God’s covenant with the Jewish people was pursued by Pope Benedict XVI who, on the occasion of his visit to a synagogue of Cologne in Germany on August 19, 2005, four months to the day after his election as Pope stated: “I wish to reaffirm that I intend to continue with great vigor on the path towards improved relations and friendship with the Jewish people, following the decisive lead given by Pope John Paul II” (Benedict XVI, p.1).  And later, in the same speech, Pope Benedict stated: “With St. Paul, Christians are convinced that ‘the gifts and the call of God are irrevocable (Rom.11:29; cf. 9:6, 11; 11:1ff.)” (Benedict XVI, p.2; my emphasis).


In the absence, as Boys mentions, of any further explication in papal documents of the recent papal affirmations that the Divine covenant with the Jewish people has never been revoked, indeed that that covenant is irrevocable, she suggests that:

The negative formulation (covenant “never revoked”) invites reflection on the positive meaning: If God is faithful to the covenant with Israel, then what?  This question remains open.  To assert that the “old covenant” has not been revoked carries little import if there is no theological reason for the existence of Judaism after the coming of Jesus Christ (Boys, p.23).

We shall look, next, at one recent interpretation of this positive meaning.


2.1   “Never revoked”, therefore “Still valid”?


On August 12, 2002, the [United States] National Council of Synagogues and the [R.C.] Bishops Committee for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs, USCCB, issued a joint statement entitled Reflections on Covenant and Mission (hereinafter cited as Reflections). I quote at some length from the Catholic contribution to that document:

According to Roman Catholic teaching, both the Church and the Jewish people

abide in covenant with God.  We both therefore have missions before God to

undertake in the world.  The Church believes that the mission of the Jewish

people is not restricted to their historical role as the people of whom Jesus was

born “according to the flesh” (Rom.9:5) and from whom the Church’s apostles

came.  As Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger recently wrote, “God’s providence… has

obviously given Israel a particular mission in this ‘time of the Gentiles’.”

However, only the Jewish people themselves can articulate their mission in the

light of their own religious experience.


Nonetheless the Church does perceive that the Jewish  people’s mission ad gentes

(to the nations) continues.  This is a mission that the Church also pursues in her

own way according to her understanding of covenant.  The command of the

Resurrected Jesus in Matthew 28:19 to make disciples “of all nations”…means

that the Church must bear witness in the world to the Good News of Christ so as

to prepare the world for the fullness of the kingdom of God.  However, this

evangelizing task no longer includes the wish to absorb the Jewish faith into

Christianity and so end the distinctive witness of Jews to God in human history.

…The distinctive Jewish witness must be sustained if Catholics and Jews are truly

to be, as Pope John Paul II has envisioned, “a blessing to one another”

(Reflections, p.5-6).

In relation to traditional Catholic teaching on salvation in Christ, the above statement is really a quite radical interpretation of theological considerations consequent on the affirmation that the Divine covenant with the Jewish people has never been revoked.  Indeed, the document states explicitly: “[W]hile the Catholic Church regards the saving act of Christ as central to the process of human salvation for all, it also acknowledges that Jews already dwell in a saving covenant with God” (Reflections, p.6).  Four days after the publication of this document on August 12, 2002, Cardinal Keeler, then the U.S. Bishops’ Moderator for Catholic-Jewish relations, said that the document Reflections on Covenant and Mission “does not represent a formal position taken by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) or the Bishops’ Committee for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs (BCEIA).”  It is clear, then, that this document cannot be considered part of the “ordinary magisterium”.  The Cardinal added, however, that “[t]he purpose of publicly issuing the considerations which it [i.e. the document Reflections on Covenant and Mission] contains is to encourage serious reflection on these matters by Jews and Christians” (Reflections, p.14-15).


2.2   Valid Divine Covenant with the Jewish People and Catholic Teaching on the Necessity of Baptism for Salvation


Serious reflection, indeed, this document Reflections on Covenant and Mission does evoke.  Consider, for example, the lengthy document of the International Theological Commission on Limbo entitled The hope of salvation for infants who die without being baptised (hereinafter cited as Hope), published on April 20, 2007.  A key question that is taken up in this document is the Church’s traditional teaching that baptism is necessary for salvation (cf. CCC, 1257).  Indeed, although, as the document states, “The idea of limbo, which the Church has used for many centuries to designate the destiny of infants who die without Baptism, has no clear foundation in revelation” (Hope, Art. 3) it is clear that “limbo” was the speculative answer to the theological problem posed by the fact that, on the one hand, infants who die without being baptised have no actual sin and hence ought not to suffer eternal damnation; while on the other hand, such infants have inherited original sin and, without the cleansing waters of baptism, deemed necessary for salvation, they could not enjoy the beatific vision.  Hence “limbo”, where such infants would enjoy a “natural happiness” as opposed to the beatific vision.


The judgment of the International Theological Commission on the idea of limbo, however, is that “[t]he principle that God desires the salvation of all people gives rise to the hope that there is a path to salvation for infants who die without baptism (cf. CCC, 1261);” and the conclusion of the study is that “there are theological and liturgical reasons to hope that infants who die without baptism may be saved and brought to eternal happiness” (Hope, p.1).  It must be noted here that despite the media headlines that heralded the publication of the study of the International Theological Commission, headlines such as: Pope revises Vatican stance on limbo; Vatican abolishes limbo; Vatican repeals traditional teaching on limbo; Vatican decides not to believe in limbo any longer, to quote but a few, the document did not contain any new official teaching of the magisterium on the question of limbo. In response to a question on the status of the document, Sr. Sara Butler, MSBT, one of the two female members of the 30-member Commission, in an interview published in Inside the Vatican (April 27, 2007) said the following:

The document is a theological explanation of why the Church now feels it is possible to hope that a way of salvation is open for infants who die without baptism; in the past it seemed that there was no hope for them.  I would not be able to speculate on whether there will be any subsequent action [from the Holy See, affirming any authentic developments in the document].  I think the document is for the use of other theologians.  Generally the ITC [International Theological Commission] documents offer a point of reference for bishops and theology professors in seminaries, for example, to offer an explanation for the development of doctrine.  But I doubt whether this would lead to a further statement from the magisterium, because it says no more than what has already been said in the CCC, in the funeral rites for infants who have died without baptism in the 1970 Roman Missal, and in Pastoralis Actio (the document from 1980 from the CDF on the baptism of infants).  It says nothing new; it is simply trying to make explicit the theological grounding for this hope.

In effect, then, that “theological grounding” involves providing theological reasons for considering unbaptised infants as a possible exception, as it were, or more accurately, an exception to be hoped for, to the general principle of the necessity of baptism for salvation, which principle thus remains intact. This brings me to the whole point of raising this issue of limbo in the context of this paper.


With regard to the Jewish people it is, in part at least, the Church’s conviction regarding the necessity of baptism for salvation that has motivated Catholic missions directed explicitly to the conversion and baptism of Jews, and historians tell us of periods of what have been described as “forced” conversions of Jews to Catholicism (cf. Reflections, p.5-6).  If  however, as the document Reflections on Covenant and Mission states, “campaigns that target Jews for conversion to Christianity are no longer theologically acceptable to the Catholic Church” (Reflections, p.2) since the Church’s understanding of its evangelizing task “no longer includes the wish to absorb the Jewish faith into Christianity and so end the distinctive witness of Jews to God in human history” (Reflections, p.6), what does this imply regarding the Church’s teaching on the necessity of baptism for salvation?  Would the Jewish people not constitute another “exception” to the general principle of the necessity of baptism for salvation?  Of course, the Church also teaches that apart from sacramental baptism, there is “baptism of desire” and “baptism of blood” (cf. CCC, 1258).  If, however, as Reflections on Covenant and Mission states, the Jewish people “dwell in a saving covenant with God” quite apart from Christ and the Church, they have no need of baptism, whether sacramental, or of desire, or of blood.  What then, to repeat, of the universal necessity of baptism for salvation?


Consider also the theological view, attributed especially to Karl Rahner, with regard to persons described as “anonymous Christians”.  Here again is a theological opinion that arises in order to allow for the salvation of persons who do not belong explicitly to the Christian fold.  The issue here would be, if we allow for “anonymous Christians”, must we not, if we accept that the Jewish people “dwell in a saving covenant with God”, also allow for the salvation of “anonymous Jews” via God’s abiding covenant with the Jewish people?


This raises the final point I should like to raise with regard to theological issues that arise from Catholic teaching on Jews and Judaism since Vatican II.  And it is related to Rabbinic theology regarding the possibility of salvation of non-Jews, that is, persons not part of their saving covenant with God, in a word, the Jewish teaching on the “righteous gentiles”.  I raise this matter since it seems to me that we, as Christians, may have much to learn and gain from Rabbinic teaching on this issue.


2.3   Anonymous Jews or Righteous Gentiles?


Although Judaism is generally regarded as “exclusivist” in that the Jews understand that the covenant with God is made exclusively with the Jewish people, Rabbinic Judaism has no need of a doctrine analogous to “anonymous Christians” in order to affirm the possibility and reality of salvation of persons who are not Jews. For, recognizing that there are holy and righteous non-Jews such as Job mentioned in the Bible (what we call the Old Testament), some of whom lived before Abraham (eg. Noah, cf. Gen.6:9; Enoch; cf. Gen.5:24; Melchizedek, cf. Gen.14:18-20), Rabbinic Judaism teaches that God’s covenant with Noah (see Gen.9:1-17), what is known as the “Noachic covenant”, made before the Divine covenants with Abraham, Moses and the Jewish people, involves all of humanity and is therefore a vehicle of salvation for non-Jews.  Crucial to this Rabbinic teaching is the notion of covenant.  In other words, the covenant with Noah, and through Noah with all of humanity and indeed all of creation (Gen.9, 8-17) – a covenant regarding which there is no evidence whatever in the scriptures that it has ever been revoked! – is considered analogous to the Divine covenant with the Jewish people.  Hence, salvation of gentiles or non-Jews is related to a covenant analogous to yet quite distinct from God’s covenant with the Jewish people.  For it is understood that what brings salvation for the Jews is living in accordance with the Torah, while what brings salvation to the Gentiles or non-Jews is a decent life lived in accordance with the laws of the “Noachic” covenant. These so-called “Noahide” laws are deemed to be binding upon non-Jews in the same way that the laws of the Torah are binding upon Jews.  Rabbinic speculation based on Gen.9:1-17 has produced several lists of such “Noahide” laws, ranging in number from seven (the most common number) to as many as over thirty, and including such precepts as the prohibition of idolatry, murder, stealing, sexual immorality and the consumption of blood.


What is significant for us Christians is that the text describing what the Rabbis have termed the Noachic covenant is found in the Book of Genesis, which is part, not only of the Jewish sacred scripture, but also of the Christian Bible. In a study published in 2002 entitled The Jewish People and their Sacred Scriptures in the Christian Bible, the Pontifical Biblical Commission asserted that the Jewish and Christian interpretations of the Hebrew Scriptures, or what Christians term the “Old Testament”, are “bound up with the vision of their respective faiths, of which the readings [or interpretations] are the result and expression.”  “Consequently,” says the document, “both [readings or interpretations] are irreducible.”  The Commission adds, however, that “[o]n the practical level of exegesis, Christians can, nonetheless, learn much from Jewish exegesis practiced for more than two thousand years …” (Art.22).  Exploration of what we Christians can learn from the Rabbinic theology of the “Noachic covenant” regarding our understanding of the possible salvation of persons of other religions or indeed of no explicit religious faith, is beyond the scope of this present study. Given the fact, however, that “pagans” such as Abel and Melchizedek are invoked in the Roman Canon (cf. the prayer Supra Quae which comes after the consecration of the sacred species), given also the Catholic tradition which has looked upon Abel, brother of Cain (cf. Gen.4:1-16) as a saint (cf. Danielou, p.29-41), I do wish to suggest with the Dominican theologian Aidan Nichols, that while the “Noachic covenant…cannot be taken to legitimize, without more ado, all existing world religions,” that covenant may yet be “relevant [sic]to them” (Nichols, p1).  Indeed study of and reflection on the Jewish notion of the “Noachic covenant”, for example on how the various Rabbis have arrived at their respective determinations of the demands (from seven to as many as over thirty, we saw) that are incumbent on the human partner of that covenant, might well provide a helpful contribution to a theology of religions and to inter-religious dialogue in the Caribbean.


3.   Some Practical Issues arising from Catholic Teaching on Jews and Judaism since Vatican II


In this concluding section I should like to look at a few practical issues that seem to me to arise for us in the Caribbean from Catholic teaching on Judaism and the Jewish people such as we have discussed above. And I shall treat these issues under two main headings: implications for liturgy and preaching and implications for catechesis and religious education.


3.1 Implications for Liturgy and Preaching

Since late 2006 it has been rumoured that Pope Benedict XVI is “about to issue” a motu proprio that would permit more general use of the “Tridentine” liturgy.  It was certainly coming in January, 2007, and then it was certainly coming in Lent of 2007.  Neither “certainty” has come to pass.  Rumour also has it that part of reason for the delay has to do with the implications of such permission with regard to the Good Friday “Prayer for the Conversion of the Jews” which, in the “Tridentine” liturgy, is worded as follows:

For the Conversion of the Jews:

Let us pray for the (perfidious*) Jews, that our God and Lord would remove the veil from their hearts; that they may also acknowledge our Lord Jesus Christ (*Note: the word “perfidious” was deleted some years before Vatican II):



Almighty and Everlasting God, you do not exclude from your mercy even the Jews: hear our prayers which we offer for the blindness of that people; that acknowledging the light of Your Truth, which is Christ, they may be rescued from their darkness.

Through the same Christ…   Amen.


In contrast to the wording of that prayer, the post-Vatican II prayer is not described as a prayer for the conversion of the Jews but rather as a prayer “For the Jewish People”.  It reads as follows:


For the Jewish People:

Let us pray for the Jewish people, the first to hear the word of God, that they may continue to grow in love of his name and in faithfulness to his covenant.


Almighty and Eternal God, long ago you gave your promise to Abraham and his posterity.  Listen to your Church as we pray that the people you first made your own may arrive at the fullness of redemption.

We ask this through Christ…  Amen.


The post-Vatican II prayer, asking that the Jewish people may grow “in faithfulness to his [God’s] covenant,” echoes what we have seen above regarding the Divine covenant with the Jewish people that “has never been revoked”.  It is clear that permission for general  use of the so-called “Tridentine” liturgy in addition to the post-Vatican II liturgy would result in the Catholic Church praying publicly and officially with two clearly opposed and contradictory voices.


Even if this does not take place, however, the issue does highlight the importance of sensitivity, on the part of preachers and teachers, with regard to how they deal with the anti-Judaic texts that come up from time to time in the liturgy or in Bible study, and how they refer to the Jews in preaching and teaching.  Here, I share the stated aim of Marilyn Salmon, in her book Preaching without contempt: overcoming unintended anti-Judaism, when she writes:

My purpose … is to raise awareness of how preachers perpetuate Christian anti-Judaism in sermons.  I believe it is unintentional, but the images of Judaism are so familiar that clergy and laity alike don’t hear the slander in casting the Pharisees as hypocritically legalistic, or contrasting the letter of the Law in Judaism with the spirit of the Law represented by Jesus, or in ascribing to early Judaism the opposite of Christian virtues.  The first step toward eliminating anti-Jewish bias is consciousness-raising so that we become accustomed to recognizing it.  Then when one prepares to preach [or teach] it simply will be part of one’s consciousness and not the burden of one more thing to remember (Salmon, p.13).



3.1 Implications for Catechesis and Religious Education

Reporting for Catholic News Service on the occasion of the retirement at the end of this month (June, 2007) of Dr. Eugene Fisher, who will have served thirty years as Associate Director for Catholic-Jewish relations at the Secretariat for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, Jerry Filteau wrote:

“The church has two delivery systems” for its teaching, he (Dr. Fisher) said.  “One is the classroom, one is the liturgy and the pulpit.”  In both areas Catholics now receive an entirely different message about Jews and Judaism than they did for nearly 2000 years before Vatican II, he said (CNS, May 15, 2007).

It would perhaps be more accurate to say that in the areas mentioned, Catholics ought now to receive an entirely different message about Jews and Judaism.  In any event, having dealt briefly with “the liturgy and the pulpit”, I now turn to add a brief word on “the classroom”.


Since the promulgation of Nostra Aetate in 1965, there have been several documents from the Pontifical Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews and from various Episcopal Conferences spelling out various implications of the conciliar teaching on Jews and Judaism.  I wish to draw attention to one of these documents, entitled Notes on the Correct Way to Present the Jews and Judaism in Preaching and Catechesis in the Roman Catholic Church.  This document was issued by the Vatican Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews on June 24, 1985.  The text in question is as follows:

Because of the unique relations that exist between Christianity and Judaism “linked together at the very level of their identity” (John Paul II, 6th March, 1982) – relations “founded on the design of the God of the Covenant” (ibid.), the Jews and Judaism should not occupy an occasional and marginal place in catechesis: their presence there is essential and should be organically integrated. (Art.2)


Now, although this document dates from 1985, I am not aware that any significant attention is given to Jews and Judaism in catechetical programmes and/or religious education programmes in our region.  Part of the reason for this, I imagine, is related to the small numbers of Jews at present in our societies, which would seem not to make this much of a pressing issue. What is at stake here, however, is the important issue of the organic relation between what we call the Old Testament, which is (minus the deuterocanonical books, of course) the Bible of the Jewish people and also an integral part of our Christian Bible, and the New Testament.  Our faith in the incarnation is that the Word of God became flesh in Jesus of Nazareth, a Jew, and the New Testament opens with the genealogy of Matthew’s gospel, which places Jesus firmly within the bowels of the Jewish people.  In our focus on the Divine origin of Jesus, we tend to downplay his human origin and indeed we tend to set him over against the Jewish people.  If, however, we are to fully grasp the implications of the Divine covenant with the Jewish people, “which has never been revoked”, much of this will have, I believe, to change.


As a final practical observation, I note that the Caribbean Examinations Council (CXC) offers “Religious Studies” as one of its options.  The syllabus for this subject includes the study of Judaism, as well as the study of Christianity, Islam, Hinduism and Afro-Caribbean religions.  Candidates are required: 1) to submit an SBA (School-Based Assessment) project on an Afro-Caribbean religion; 2) to write a multiple-choice examination comprising questions on the four world religions: Hinduism, Judaism, Christianity and Islam; and 3) to write an examination on ONE of the four world religions.  This subject has been made available since the early nineties, but my information is that to date it has been offered at schools only in Jamaica, Barbados and Belize, in addition to a small number, (fewer than ten), candidates from Trinidad who registered for it in 2006.  My major interest here, of course, would be the opportunity for students in Catholic schools to learn about Judaism and about the Jewish roots of Christianity as a basis and background for catechesis if this subject were offered in Catholic schools of our region.  Moreover, the section of the syllabus that deals with Christianity would provide a forum for the study of other Christian denominations, as is indeed enjoined in the 1993 Directory for the Application of Principles and Norms on Ecumenism, (Art.68, 61), and would thus lay the foundation for future ecumenical dialogue and activity. So that, in conclusion, I would say that it seems to me that, provided that teachers were well prepared and it was well taught, to offer such a subject as Religious Studies (even if not specifically for the CXC examination) would be to assist in laying the groundwork for fruitful interreligious and ecumenical dialogue among our people.






Biblical quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)


BENEDICT XVI, Pope. Address of His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI, Cologne – Synagogue, Friday, 19 August 2005. (References taken from the Vatican website)


BOYS, Mary C. (ed.). Seeing Judaism anew: Christianity’s sacred obligation. Lanham, Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2005.


DANIELOU, Jean. Holy Pagans of the Old Testament. (Translated by Felix Faber). London, Longmans, Green & Co., 1957.


de VERTEUIL, Anthony. Temples of Trinidad. Port-of-Spain, The Litho Press, 2004.


LEVINE, Amy-Jill.  The misunderstood Jew: The church and the scandal of the Jewish Jesus. San Francisco, Harper San Francisco, 2006


NICHOLS, Aidan, “Catholicism and other Religions” (


ROEST CROLLIUS, P. Jewish religiosity. Rome, Pontifical Missionary Union, 1998.


SALMON, Marilyn J. Preaching without contempt: Overcoming unintended Anti-Judaism. Minneapolis, Fortress Press, 2006.



Church Documents:

Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC)

Directory for the application of the principles and norms on ecumenism, Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, March 25, 1993.


The hope of salvation for infants who die without being baptised, International Theological Commission, April 20, 2007.


Notes on the correct way to present the Jews and Judaism in preaching and catechesis in the Roman Catholic Church, Pontifical Council for Religious Relations with the Jews, June 24, 1988.


Reflections on Covenant and Mission, National Council of Synagogues and the Bishops Committee for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs, USCCB, August 12, 2002.


Nostra Aetate, Vatican II Declaration on the Relation of the Church to Non-Christian Religions, October 28, 1965.

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