Dialogika

Kurt Cardinal Koch

In the Service of Jewish-Catholic Understanding

Cardinal Koch, president of Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews, delivered this opening address at the Commission's conference with its consultors and delegates of individual Episcopal Conferences for Catholic-Jewish dialogue held in Rome on 29 October 2012. Posted with his permission with slight editing.1

 

Dear brothers in episcopal and priestly service, distinguished professors, consultors and delegates of Episcopal Conferences,

I extend to you a hearty welcome to the Plenary of the Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews, and thank you for your attendance and the collaboration promised once more by your presence. General assemblies of our Commission occur rather seldom, and are not convened according to a specified rhythm but as the occasion arises and for special purposes. The first assembly of this kind took place in 1982, and the second on the occasion of the 40th anniversary of the promulgation of Nostra Aetate (No.4) in 2005. Our Commission has now organised such a meeting for the third time because I have by now presided over it for over two years and would like to personally get to know the consultors and delegates of the individual Episcopal Conferences and enter into conversation with them. Besides a fraternal exchange on the general situation of Jewish–Catholic dialogue at the global level, there are several specific topics to be discussed which are in my opinion of significance for successful dialogue with the “fathers of our faith”, as Pope Benedict XVI has defined the Jews. I would however like to begin my remarks in this Prelude with a brief reminder of the Conciliar Declaration Nostra Aetate (No.4), since that established the direction and the basic structure of the dialogue with the Jews from the outset.

1. Nostra Aetate (No.4) as the abiding compass of Jewish–Catholic dialogue

In the wide–ranging discussion of a possible re–admission of the Priestly Society of St Pius X into the Roman Catholic Church, it was not only the Jewish side that referred to the significance and value of the Conciliar Declaration Nostra Aetate (No.4), Jews feared that the possible act of re–integration of a number of possibly anti–Jewish inclined priests and faithful, who on principle reject Nostra Aetate, the Catholic Church could take a new direction in dialogue with the Jews, or that at the least the Conciliar Declaration could become relativised for the church as a whole. On the Catholic side one could sometimes hear that the Second Vatican Council had undertaken a differentiation in regard to its texts “Constitutiones, Decreta et Declarationes”, and that Nostra Aetate simply belonged to those “Declarationes” which were of subordinate importance and could be classed as less binding than the other texts. In relation to the Jews, the Holy Father commissioned me to set the record straight: For the magisterium of the Church, Nostra Aetate was beyond question, as he himself has again and again clearly expressed in his addresses, writings and personal gestures in relation to Judaism, and a rapprochement with the Priestly Society of St Pius X did not in any way mean that its position would be accepted or supported. As far as the various types of conciliar texts are concerned, it is indeed possible to differentiate at the formal level; as far as content is concerned, however, they cannot be separated from or set against one another; all texts, whether Constitutions, Decrees or Declarations must be considered and taken seriously in their reciprocal interrelatedness.2 In the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church Lumen Gentium 9 and 10, and in the Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation, Dei Verbum 14–16 for example, we find fundamental theological statements which correspond with statements in Nostra Aetate 4 and are taken up again there. To that extent, Nostra Aetate does not represent an isolated meteorite among the conciliar texts, as though it had fallen directly from heaven without containing cross references to other conciliar texts. From the beginning of his pontificate, Pope Benedict XVI has therefore left no doubt that he stands firmly on the foundation of the Second Vatican Council and its documents, which are necessarily viewed as a whole. In his famous Christmas address to the Roman Curia in 2005 he gave unmistakeable expression to this fact, at the same time presenting a corresponding hermeneutic for the conciliar texts.3

Still today, Nostra Aetate is considered the “foundation document” and the “Magna Carta” of the dialogue of the Roman Catholic Church with Judaism. The Declaration begins with a reflection on the mystery and the soteriological mission of the Church, and recalls the deep bond which links the people of the New Covenant in a spiritual manner with the stock of Abraham. It affirms emphatically that disdain, disparagement and contempt of Judaism must be avoided at all costs, and the Jewish roots of Christianity are therefore explicitly given prominence. At the same time it rejects the sweeping accusation, which has unfortunately survived over centuries in various places, that the Jews were “deicides”.  On the Jewish side it is particularly positively emphasised that the Conciliar Declaration took up an unambiguous position against every form of anti–Semitism. It is not least on this basis that the Jews can with complete assurance remain borne up by the hope that in the Catholic Church they will continue to find a reliable ally in the struggle against anti–Semitism, which has by no means been overcome in the today’s world.

The concrete factors leading to the drafting of Nostra Aetate can perhaps be summed up in three points: a reflection of the Christian conscience following the human tragedy of the Shoah, developments in biblical studies prior to the Second Vatican Council, and also the founding of the state of Israel in 1948. In the Christian sphere, coming to terms with the Shoah was certainly one of the major motivations leading to the drafting of this Conciliar Declaration. But political and pragmatic reasons also played a not inconsequential role in this. Since the foundation of the State of Israel in 1948, the Catholic Church sees itself confronted in the Holy Land with the reality that it has to develop its pastoral life within a state which decidedly understands itself as Jewish. With regard to theological considerations which can be discerned as a constant in the fundamental structure of Nostra Aetate, biblical studies prior to the Council had tended to locate the figure of Jesus of Nazareth increasingly clearly within the Judaism of his time. In this way the New Testament was placed entirely within the framework of Jewish traditions, and Jesus was perceived as a Jew of his time who felt an obligation to these traditions. This view also found its way into the Council Declaration, when it states with reference to the Letter to the Romans (9:5), that Jesus stems according to the flesh from the people of Israel, and the church recalls the fact “that from the Jewish people sprang the apostles, her foundation stones and pillars, as well as most of the early disciples who proclaimed Christ to the world.”4 Since Nostra Aetate it has therefore become part of the cantus firmus ["fixed song"] of Jewish–Christian dialogue to call to mind and to emphasise the Jewish roots of the Christian faith. During his visit to the Roman synagogue on 13 April 1986 Pope John Paul II expressed this in the vivid and impressive words: “The Jewish religion is not ‘extrinsic’ to us but in a certain way is ‘intrinsic’ to our own religion. With Judaism we therefore have a relationship we do not have with any other religion. You are our dearly beloved brothers and in a certain way it could be said, our elder brothers.”5

Whatever motives and factors may have individually led to the drafting of Nostra Aetate, the declaration remains the crucial compass of all endeavours towards Jewish–Catholic dialogue, and we can claim with gratitude that this theological re–definition of the relationship with Judaism has directly brought forth rich fruits throughout its reception history. It seems that as far as content is concerned, the Council fathers at that time took into consideration almost everything which has since proved to be significant in the history of the dialogue. With regard to the reception history of  Conciliar documents, one can without doubt dare to assert that Nostra Aetate is to be reckoned among those Council texts which have in a convincing manner been able to effect a fundamental re–orientation of the Catholic Church following the Council. The fundamental principle of respect for Judaism expressed in Nostra Aetate has over the course of recent decades made it possible in the course of several decades for groups who initially confronted one another with scepticism to become reliable partners and even good friends, capable of coping with crises together and overcoming conflicts positively.

2. Pope Benedict XVI and his commitment to dialogue with the Jews

As far as dialogue with the Jews is concerned, Pope Benedict XVI has from the outset of his pontificate stressed his intention to follow in the footsteps of his predecessor not only in promoting the relationship with the Jews, but also in intensifying them. There can be no doubt in this respect, since the great endeavours by Pope John Paul II for Jewish–Catholic dialogue were already at that time theologically legitimated and supported by the then Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger. Already as a student of theology Joseph Ratzinger was able to find an approach to Judaism through his study of the Old and New Testaments, and this was further intensified through his contacts with Jews during his time in Rome. Thus he published groundbreaking articles on the specific relationship of Christianity to Judaism within the context of world religions.6 The foundation for this view held by Ratzinger the theologian lies in his conviction that Sacred Scripture can only be understood as one single book, that the “concordia testamentorum” ["harmony of the Testaments"] is therefore indispensably necessary for the true understanding of the biblical message of salvation. It is therefore a core concern for him to demonstrate the profound connections of New Testament themes with the Old Testament message, so that both the intrinsic continuity between the New and the Old Testament and the innovation of the New Testament message are clearly illuminated.

Against the background of these theological convictions it cannot surprise us that Pope Benedict XVI carries on and advances the conciliatory work of his predecessor with regard to Jewish–Catholic conversation. He not only addressed the first letter in his pontificate to the Chief Rabbi in Rome but also gave an assurance at his first encounter with a Jewish delegation on 9 June 2005 that the church was moving firmly on the fundamental principles of Nostra Aetate and that he intended to continue the dialogue in the footsteps of his predecessors. In reviewing his pontificate of over seven years we find that he has in this short space of time taken all those steps which Pope John Paul took in his 27–year pontificate: Pope Benedict XVI visited the former concentration camp Auschwitz–Birkenau on 28 May 2006; during his visit to Israel in May 2009 he too stood before the Wailing Wall, he met with the Chief Rabbinate of Jerusalem and prayed for the victims of the Shoah in Yad Vashem; and on 17 January 2010 he was warmly received by the Jewish community in Rome in their synagogue. His first visit to a synagogue was of course made already on 19 August 2005 in Cologne on the occasion of World Youth Day, and on 18 April 2008 he visited the Park East Synagogue in New York. So we can claim with gratitude that no other Pope in history has visited as many synagogues as Benedict XVI.

All of these activities are indeed marked by his own personal style. While Pope John Paul II had a refined sense for grand gestures and strong images, Benedict XVI relies above all on the power of the word and humble encounter. In this way Pope Benedict XVI endeavours again and again through the power of his words and his spiritual profundity to highlight the multi–facetted riches of the common spiritual heritage of Judaism and Christianity and to add theological depth to the guidelines set down by the declaration “Nostra aetate”.7

3. Dialogue with the Jewish Umbrella Body, the International Jewish Committee on Interreligious Consultations (IJCIC)

Before I turn to the initiatives of the Vatican Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews, I feel compelled to express to you, distinguished consultors and delegates of the individual Episcopal Conferences, my gratitude for everything that has been and is still being done at the level of Bishops’ Conferences, local churches and academic institutes to foster dialogue with the Jews. I look forward to your reports and information. You know that our Commission is always prepared to support all meaningful initiatives for fostering this dialogue at various levels, but also and above all to uphold them in prayer. We would like to express our solidarity with your efforts, but at the same time point out in the interest of the subsidiarity principle that concrete steps can really only be undertaken at the local level. The interplay of local and universal church is also useful and necessary with reference to Jewish–Catholic dialogue.

Since Judaism is multi–faceted and not presented as an organisational unity, the Catholic side was faced with the difficulty of deciding with whom one should take up actual dialogue, because it was not possible to conduct individual and independent dialogue with all Jewish groupings and organisations who had declared their readiness to dialogue. To resolve this problem the Jewish organisations took up the suggestion by the Catholic side to establish a single organisation for the religious dialogue. The so–called International Jewish Committee on Interreligious Consultations (IJCIC) represents on the Jewish side the official partner for the Holy See’s Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews. It comprises almost all large Jewish organisations, of which not a few have their headquarters in the USA.

IJCIC was able to commence its work in 1970, and organised already one year later the first joint conference in Paris. The conferences which have been conducted regularly since then are the expression of the so–called International Catholic–Jewish Liaison Committee (ILC), and they shape the collaboration between IJCIC and the Holy See’s Commission. At the 21st Conference of the ILC at the end of February 2011 we were able to look back with gratitude on 40 years of institutional dialogue and to celebrate this jubilee once more in Paris. Much has developed over the past 40 years: confrontation has turned into successful collaboration, the previous potential for conflict has become positive conflict management, and the co–existence of the past has been replaced by a load–bearing friendship. The bonds of friendship forged in the meantime have proved to be stable, so that it has become possible to tackle even controversial subjects together without the danger of permanent damage being done to the dialogue. This was all the more necessary because over the past decades the dialogue had not always been free of tensions. We need only recall the crises provoked in the 1980s by the so–called “Waldheim affair” or the planned “Carmel in Auschwitz”. In most recent times one thinks of the debate on the new Good Friday Prayer in the extraordinary form of the Roman Rite, the so–called “Williamson affair” in January 2009, or also the very divergent opinions regarding the possibility of the beatification of Pope Pius XII, whereby the attentive observer can hardly avoid the conclusion that on the part of the Jews the verdicts on this Pope have changed from the original profound gratitude to profound anxiety only since the drama by Hochhuth. In general however one can observe with appreciation that in Jewish–Catholic dialogue since the turn of the millennium above all, intensive attempts have been made to deal with any arising differences of opinion and conflicts openly and with a positive goal in mind, so that in this way the mutual relations have only become stronger.

Looking back on the ILC Conferences held since the last Plenary of the Vatican Commission with the consultors and the delegates of the individual Episcopal Conferences in October 2005, the 19th took place in Cape Town in November 2006 and the 20th in Budapest in November 2008. While the South African Conference attempted to unite Jews and Catholics in the battle against HIV/Aids with the theme “Healthcare – Dignifying the Divine Image”, in Hungary, as a land which had previously stood under Communist control, the focus of discussion was placed on the relationship between religion and civil society with the theme “Religion and Civil Societies Today – Jewish and Catholic Perspectives”. At both conferences we were able at least to intensify the bond of friendship with our Jewish partners.

Another important initiative within the framework of the ILC Conferences must be mentioned. Already at the Budapest conference agreement was reached that prior to each actual conference a small group of twelve young people, Jews and Catholics aged between 20 and 35, should meet for a period of two days. In principle this involves fostering emerging participants for Jewish–Catholic dialogue, which had been envisaged long before by both IJCIC and our Commission. These young people were then ultimately able to participate in the actual ILC Conference as full members. They formed as it were the core troops for the organisation of a so–called “Emerging Leadership Conference”, which took place in Castel Gandolfo in the vicinity of Rome at the end of June 2009. At that Conference, about 50 young Jews and Catholics from throughout the world came together for four days and exchanged their views on the subject “Discovering Common Values”. On the basis of the success of this conference it was resolved to conduct an “Emerging Leadership Conference” every two years, in alternation with the actual ILC Conferences. So the second emerging leaders conference took place from 18–21 June this year in the vicinity of New York with the theme “Catholics and Jews: Our Common Values, Our Common Roots”. For 2013 the organisation of a regular ILC Conference is in planning but the details are not yet available.

4. Dialogue with the Chief Rabbinate in Israel  

Beside the dialogue with IJCIC, the institutional conversation with the Chief Rabbinate in Jerusalem should also be mentioned, which is clearly to be seen as a fruit of the encounter of Pope John Paul II with the Chief Rabbis in Jerusalem during his visit to Israel in March 2000. The first meeting was organised in June 2002 in Jerusalem, and since then a total of 11 such meetings have been conducted, which have taken place in Rome and Jerusalem alternately. The two delegations are relatively small comprising about 15 participants, so that a very personal and intensive discussion on various subjects is possible. In the course of the past years the following subjects have been dealt with jointly: the sanctity of human life, family values, the relevance of central teachings in the Holy Scriptures which we share for contemporary society, and the education of future generations, a shared vision of social justice and ethical conduct, the relationship between religious and civil authority in the Jewish and Christian traditions, the relationship between human life and technology, the freedom of religion and conscience and its limits, creation and environment: the challenge of human intervention in natural order, the role of religious leadership in secular society, the religious perspectives on the current financial crisis: vision for a just economic order.

Since those taking part in the meetings on the Catholic side are bishops and priests and on the Jewish side almost exclusively rabbis it is hardly surprising that the individual subjects are also examined from a religious perspective. This statement is astonishing because normally within Orthodox Judaism the tendency prevails to avoid religious and theological questions. The dialogue with the Chief Rabbinate has in this regard enabled a further opening of Orthodox Judaism with Roman Catholic Church at a global level. After each meeting a joint declaration is published and made accessible on the web–site of the Vatican Commission. In each instance this joint declaration testifies how rich the common spiritual heritage of Judaism and Christianity is and what valuable treasures are still to be unearthed. In reviewing ten years of the dialogue we can gratefully affirm that an intensive friendship has resulted which represents a firm foundation for the path into the future.

5. The dialogue work of the Vatican Commission

The dialogue efforts of the Holy See’s Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews cannot of course be restricted to these two institutional dialogues. It is in fact intent on being open to all streams within Judaism and maintaining contact with all Jewish groupings and organisations that wish to establish links with the Holy See. The Jewish side shows a particular interest in private audiences with the Pope, which are in every instance prepared by the Commission. Among the many private audiences for Jewish groups which have taken place in recent years, three need to be mentioned in particular because they represent a special character. On 10 November 2011 the supreme religious leadership of the state of Israel, the so–called Israeli Religious Council, were in Rome on a visit. For the first time in history Jews, Christians, Muslims and Druse who live together in the state of Israel were jointly presented to the Holy Father in a private audience. On 12 December 2011 Pope Benedict XVI received the Chief Rabbi of Great Britain, Sir Jonathan Sacks, with whom he discussed in a private encounter the future of Europe, in regard to religion in particular. Following the audience Chief Rabbi Sacks presented a lecture at the Gregorian Pontifical University on the theme “Has Europe Lost its Soul?” Finally, on 10 May 2012 the Latin American Jewish Congress were guests of the Pope, the first occasion on which a larger group of Jews from Latin America were received in the Vatican.

For the dialogue activity of the Vatican Commission with the Jews to be meaningful it is necessary that it not only welcomes Jews in the Vatican but is also present there where Jews live and are organised. For that, the most important countries for the Vatican Commission are Israel and the USA, because that is where about 11 million of the 14 million Jews world–wide have their home. My first trip, accompanied by the Secretary of the Commission, took me to the USA from 29 October to 5 November 2011. I was invited to give a paper to the Institute of Judaeo–Christian Studies at Seton Hall University in New Jersey on the theme “Theological Questions and Perspectives in Jewish–Catholic Dialogue”. In New York we were warmly received by the Jewish Theological Seminary, met representatives of the IJCIC and visited the American Bible Society. Finally, in Washington we also had contact with the Bishops’ Conference of the United States, and I was invited to give a paper to the Catholic University of America on the ecumenical situation today. A second major trip took us on 22–27 May 2012 to Israel, where we visited our Jewish dialogue partners. Our programme always includes a pleasant visit to the Israeli Chief Rabbinate in Jerusalem. There we met Chief Rabbi Yonah Metzger and the General Secretary of the Chief Rabbinate Oded Wiener together with Rabbi David Rosen, who works on interreligious dialogue for the American Jewish Committee in Jerusalem. At the same time we were introduced to Israel’s new ambassador to the Holy See, His Excellency Zion Evrony, who took up his post in Rome in August 2012. At the Jerusalem Studies Institute we met a group of about 25 persons who promote interreligious dialogue in various institutes in Israel. In an informal conversation we were given an orientation on the current situation of dialogue in the state of Israel. After that I was invited to present a public lecture on the theme “Christians Called to be Faithful to Abraham’s Heritage”, which was followed by lively discussion. It is self–evident that on such occasions we also meet our Catholic brothers, such as the Jerusalem Patriarch Fouad Twal, the Custos Terrae Sanctae, Father Pierbattista Pizzaballa, Suffragan Bishop Giacinto Marcuzzo, Archbishop Elia Chacour and the Apostolic Nuncio Antonio Franco, who has in the meantime retired.

Besides the direct contacts with Judaism, the Commission also strives to provide encouragement within the Catholic Church for dialogue with Judaism and to work together with individual Episcopal Conferences to support them locally in the promotion of Jewish–Catholic conversation. With this in mind, following my introduction we would like to exchange views in this encounter on what else we can do for the further promotion and intensification of the dialogue within our Church. Over the past decades both the “dialogue ad extra” and the “dialogue ad intra” have led with increasing clarity to the awareness that Christians and Jews are dependent on one another and the dialogue between the two is, as far as theology is concerned, not a matter of choice but of duty. Jews and Christians are precisely in their difference the one people of God who can enrich one another in mutual friendship. I was able to deepen perspectives in this regard in a lecture here in Rome at the Pontifical University of Saint Thomas Aquinas, the so–called Angelicum, on 16 May 2012. I was invited to speak before a large audience on the subject “Building on Nostra aetate: 50 Years of Christian–Jewish Dialogue”. There were many representatives of Judaism present who were able to put their stimulating questions following the lecture.

Naturally I do not have the right to judge what Judaism may gain from this dialogue for its own purposes. I can only join Cardinal Walter Kasper in expressing the wish that it recognise that “separating Judaism from Christianity” would mean “robbing it of its universality”, which was already promised to Abraham.8 For the Christian church however it is certainly true that without Judaism it is in danger of losing its location with salvation history and in the end declining into an unhistorical Gnosis.

6. Theological aspects of Jewish–Catholic dialogue

The Declaration of the Second Vatican Council on Judaism, that is the fourth article of Nostra Aetate, is located within a decidedly theological framework. That is not meant to claim that all theological questions which arise in the relationship of Christianity and Judaism were solved there. They did receive a promising stimulus there, but require further theological reflection. That is also indicated by the fact that this Council document, unlike all other texts of the Second Vatican Council, could not in its notes refer back to preceding doctrinal documents and decisions of previous councils. Of course there had been earlier magisterial texts which focussed on Judaism, but Nostra Aetate provides the first theological overview of the relationship of the Catholic Church to the Jews.

Perhaps because it was such a breakthrough, the Council text is not infrequently over–interpreted, and things are read into it which it does not in fact contain. To name a particularly important example: That the covenant that God made with his people Israel persists and is never invalidated – although this confession is true – cannot be read into Nostra Aetate. This statement was instead first made with full clarity by Pope John Paul II when he said during a meeting with Jewish representatives in Mainz on 17 November 1980 that the Old Covenant had never been revoked by God: “The first dimension of this dialogue, namely the encounter between God’s people of the Old Covenant which has never been revoked by God and that of the New Covenant is at the same time a dialogue within our church, as it were between the first and second part of her bible.”9

This statement too has given rise to misunderstandings, for example the implication that if the Jews remain in a valid covenant relationship with God, there must be two different ways of salvation, namely the Jewish path of salvation without Christ and the path of salvation for all other people, which leads through Jesus Christ. As obvious as this answer seems to be at first glance, it is not able to solve satisfactorily at least the highly complex theological question of how the Christian belief in the universal salvific significance of Jesus Christ can coherently be conceptually combined with the equally clear conviction of faith in the never–revoked covenant of God with Israel.10 That the church and Judaism cannot be represented as “two parallel ways to salvation”, but that the church must “witness to Christ as the Redeemer for all” was established already in the second document published by the Holy See’s Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews in 1985, “Notes on the correct way to present the Jews and Judaism in preaching and catechesis in the Roman Catholic Church”.11 The Christian faith stands or falls by the confession that God wants to lead all people to salvation, that He follows this path in Jesus Christ as the universal mediator of salvation, and that there is no “other name under heaven given to the human race by which we are to be saved” (Acts 4:12).

According to the Christian faith understanding there can be only one path to salvation. However, on the other hand, it does not necessarily follow from this fundamental confession that the Jews are excluded from God’s salvation because they do not believe in Jesus Christ as the Messiah of Israel and the Son of God. Such a claim would find no support in the soteriological understanding of St Paul, who in the Letter to the Romans definitively negates the question he himself has posed, whether God has repudiated his own people: “For the gifts and the call of God are irrevocable” (Rom 11:29). That the Jews are participants in God’s salvation is theologically unquestionable, but how that can be possible without confessing Christ explicitly, is and remains an unfathomable divine mystery. It is therefore no accident that Paul’s soteriological reflections in Romans 9–11 on the irrevocable redemption of Israel against the background of the Christ–mystery culminate in a mysterious doxology: “Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How inscrutable are his judgments and how unsearchable his ways” (Rom 11:33). It is likewise no accident that Pope Benedict XVI in the second part of his book on Jesus of Nazareth allows Bernard of Clairvaux to say in reference to the problem confronting us, that for the Jews “a determined point in time has been fixed, which cannot be anticipated”.12

This extremely complex theological issue also forms the background to the re–formulation of the Good Friday Prayer for the Jews in the extraordinary form of the Roman rite which was published in February 2008. Although the new Good Friday prayer in the theologically correct form of a plea to God confesses the universality of salvation in Jesus Christ within an eschatological horizon (“as the fullness of the peoples enters your church”),13 it has been vigorously criticised on the part of Jews – and of course also of Christians – and frequently misunderstood as a call to explicit mission to the Jews.14 It is easy to understand that the term ‘mission to the Jews’ is a very delicate and sensitive matter for the Jews because in their eyes it involves the very existence of Israel itself. On the other hand, however, this question also proves to be awkward for us Christians too, because for us the universal salvific significance of Jesus Christ and consequently the universal mission of the church are of fundamental significance. The Christian church is naturally obligated to perceive its evangelisation task in respect of the Jews, who believe in the one God, in a different manner from that to the nations. In concrete terms this means that as Cardinal Karl Lehmann has meticulously demonstrated, the Catholic Church – in contrast to several fundamentalist and evangelical movements – neither conducts nor supports any specific institutional mission work directed towards Jews.15 The in–principle rejection of an institutional mission to the Jews does not on the other hand exclude that Christians bear witness to their faith in Jesus Christ also to Jews, but they should do so in an unassuming and humble manner, particularly in view of the great tragedy of the Shoah.

7. Future perspectives for Jewish–Catholic dialogue

A more profound clarification of the theological questions briefly touched on here which inevitably impose themselves in dialogue with Judaism, can be considered the first urgent task for the future which we as Catholics need to undertake virtually as homework. As a further important perspective within the framework of the “dialogue ad intra” one could name encouraging  Catholic theologians to work out building blocks towards a so–called Christian theology of Judaism, which has by no means been fulfilled although many protagonists in Jewish–Catholic dialogue have presented very promising outlines in this regard. At this point one should remember for example the 1978 book “A Christian Theology of Judaism” by Clemens Thoma who was for a long time a consultor of our Vatican Commission and who passed away on 7 December last year.16

Further perspectives for theological dialogue with Judaism should be apparent on the basis of my comments so far. In the first instance it must involve continuing to conduct the two institutional dialogues of our Vatican Commission with the IJCIC and the Chief Rabbinate in Israel with élan, patience and persistence, constantly providing new impulses and opening up new horizons. In this connection the suggestion was made in past years to organise an ILC Conference together with Orthodox Christians, so that Catholic and Orthodox Christians could together enter into conversation with Jews. On the Christian Orthodox side there is great openness towards this idea, but the IJCIC, after initially reacting positively to the idea, has recently made it clear that it prefers to conduct conferences with both Christian churches separately. That does not however mean that this idea has died once and for all, since other possibilities can arise with other persons in the leadership of this organisation. Without patience it is simply not possible to conduct dialogue with the Jews, and patience is, as Charles Péguy has said very beautifully, “the little sister of hope”.

What has been possible to tackle in a very positive manner in recent years is the encouragement of emerging leaders in Jewish–Catholic dialogue, that is the recruitment of young people for the dialogue who will as multipliers be able to continue writing the positive reception history of Nostra Aetate (No.4). The Emerging Leadership Conferences should without question be continued in order to set a meaningful tradition on the right path for the future. Since according to Jewish understanding one can only speak of a tradition when something has been repeated three times, we have our sights set on organising a further encounter of this type for 2014. For this encounter generous sponsors are always required because young people do not normally have sufficient resources at their disposal. Until now – thanks be to God – generous donors have been found. If you have any ideas for systematic fund–raising we would be very grateful for any suggestions.

We will have sufficient time today and tomorrow to concentrate on further perspectives for Jewish–Catholic dialogue. For our part, we would especially like to discuss the possible introduction of a “Day of Judaism” at the level of  individual Episcopal Conferences, and the prospective 50th anniversary celebration of Nostra Aetate on 28 October 2015. You are all heartily invited to contribute your perspectives to our discussion of the future successful dialogue with “our elder brothers in the faith”. For your cooperation in our thinking and working together I thank you most warmly and wish you pleasant hours of encounter and exchange.



[1] Opening address at the conference of the Vatican Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews with its consultors and the delegates of individual Episcopal Conferences for the dialogue with the Jews held in Rome on 29 October 2012.

[2] Cf. J.-H. Tück, Die Verbindlichkeit des Konzils. Die Hermeneutik der Reform als Interpretationsschlüssel, in: Tück (Ed.), Erinnerung an die Zukunft. Das Zweite Vatikanische Konzil (Freiburg i. Br. 2012) 85-104.

[3] Benedetto XVI, Una giusta ermeneutica per leggere e recepire il Concilio come grande forza di rinnovamento della chiesa. Ai Cardinali, agli Arcivescovi, ai Vescovi e ai Prelati della Curia Romana per la presentazione degli auguri natalizi il 22 dicembre 2005, in: Insegnamenti di Benedetto XVI  I 2005 (Città del Vaticano 2006) 1018-1032.  Cf. Papst Benedikt XVI. und sein Schülerkreis – Kurt Kardinal Koch, Das Zweite Vatikanische Konzil. Die Hermeneutik der Reform (Augsburg 2012).

[4] Nostra Aetate, No.4.

[5] John Paul II, Ringraziamo il Signore per la ritrovata fratellanza e per la profonda intesa tra la Chiesa e l’Ebraismo. Allocuzione nella Sinagoga durante l’incontro con la Comunità Ebraica della Città di Roma il 13 aprile 1986, in: Insegnamenti di Giovanni Paolo II IX, 1, 1986 (Città del Vaticano 1986) 1024–1031, cit. 1027.

[6] J. Kardinal Ratzinger, Die Vielfalt der Religionen und der Eine Bund (Urfeld 1998).

[7] Cf. A. Buckenmaier / R. Pesch / L. Weimer, Der Jude Jesus von Nazareth. Zum Gespräch zwischen Jacob Neusner und Papst Benedikt XVI. (Paderborn 2008).

[8] Walter Kasper, Zwei Hinweise zu einer Theologie des Volkes Gottes, in: Pontificia Università Lateranense (Ed.), Festliche Eröffnung des Lehrstuhls für die Theologie des Volkes Gottes (Urfeld 2009) 17–20, cit. 20.

[9] John Paul II, La ricchezza della comune eredità ci apre al dialogo e alla collaborazione. Incontro con gli esponenti della Comunità Ebraica a Magonza il 17 novembre 1980, in: Insegnamenti di Giovanni Paolo II III, 2 1980 (Città del Vaticano 1980) 1272–1276, cit.1274.

[10] Cf. the differentiated study by T. Söding, Erwählung – Verstockung – Errettung. Zur Dialektik der paulinischen Israeltheologie in Röm 9–11, in: Communio. Internationale katholische Zeitschrift 39 (2010) 382–417.

[11]   Information Service 57 (1985/I) 16–21; originally published in French: La Documentation Catholique 76 (1985) 733–738.

[12] J. Ratzinger – Jesus of Nazareth. Holy Week: From the Entrance into Jerusalem to the Resurrection (San Francisco 2011) 44.

[13] Pope Benedict XVI has explained that he altered the Good Friday prayer in such a way “to express our faith that Christ is the Savior for all, that there are not two channels of salvation, so that Christ is also the redeemer of the Jews, and not just of the Gentiles. But the new formulation also shifts the focus from a direct petition for the conversion of the Jews in a missionary sense to a plea that the Lord might bring about the hour of history when we may all be united.” Benedict XVI, Light of the World. The Pope, the Church, and the Signs of the Times. A Conversation with Peter Seewald (San Francisco 2010), 107.

[14] Cf. W. Homolka / E. Zenger (Hrsg.), „… damit sie Jesus Christus erkennen“. Die neue Karfreitagsfürbitte für die Juden (Freiburg i. Br. 2008).

[15] K. Cardinal Lehmann, „Judenmission“. Hermeneutische und theologische Überlegungen zu einer Problemanzeige im jüdisch–christlichen Gespräch, in: H. Frankemölle / J. Wohlmuth (Eds.), Das Heil der Anderen. Problemfeld „Judenmission“ (Freiburg i. Br. 2010) 142–167, cit. 165.

[16]  C. Thoma, A Christian Theology of Judaism (New York 1980); originally published in German, Christliche Theologie des Judentums (Aschaffenburg 1978). Cf .Thoma, Das Messiasprojekt. Theologie jüdisch-christlicher Begegnung (Augsburg 1994).