Emeritus Pope Benedict

We are not an unsaved people!

Rabbi WALTER HOMOLKA warns Jews against the return of Christian arrogance


The following essay was published together with two others in the July 19, 2018 edition of Die Zeit (The Times) from Hamburg, Germany, p. 30. The page title reads: “The Former Pope and the Jews: Joseph Ratzinger once again hints that God only loves Christians. Is that antisemitic? A Jewish, a Catholic and an evangelical theologian on the latest faux pas of Benedict XVI.” Unofficial translation.


One may dream as a Jew, for example, about reconciliation with Christians. Karol Woityła as pope seemed at last to understand and like us. He visited the synagogue in Rome, spoke of the Jews as "older brothers" and emphasized that Jesus was a Jew. His successor Joseph Ratzinger was a cold shower for us. The German pontificate brought a series of mishaps in interfaith dialogue, beginning with the "Good Friday Prayer," which Benedict used in a traditionalist way in 2008. To recall: for centuries Jews in this intercession have been ostracized as "faithless," that God should take them from their "blindness." Although the Vatican had softened the text since the 1950s, Benedict sharpened it again: May the Jews be enlightened with the knowledge of Christ, "the Savior of all men." So, your conversion to Christ is essential.

Now Ratzinger continues. Last week, his essay “Grace and Vocation without Remorse,” a retrospective commentary on a document from the Vatican Commission on Religious Relations with the Jews of 2015, which was the latest elucidation of the Council’s Declaration Nostra Aetate of 1965. At that time, Rome transformed the absolute truth claim of Christianity into a reconciled and respectful relationship with other religions – and opened a new chapter in dealing with the Jews: Yes, Christianity is rooted in Judaism! Yes, there is truth outside of the church too, so also salvation!

But now Ratzinger rows backward. He opens the horrible storeroom of Christian pride and superiority, using arguments that the church had used to denigrate and deprive Jews for centuries. For example: The Jews are God's people, but their covenant with God remains a promise. Only through Christ would their Sinai covenant be transformed into a new one and receive its "definitive form in the sacrament of Jesus Christ, which anticipates and carries within itself the cross and the resurrection." In plain English: We Jews are an unredeemed people.

Admittedly, Ratzinger acknowledges that Israel never ceased to be "the bearer of the promises of God," and that it remains the possessor of the Holy Scriptures. But this is an Old Testament for Christians, continued and fulfilled by a New Testament. Jews therefore hold God's revelation in their hands, but they do not interpret it correctly. Ratzinger suggests that we Jews did not make the decisive turn in the covenant with God. Although God's love is still recognizable in the Jewish suffering and exile – but one hears this as a Jew from the mouth of a German pope with horror. Well, thank you!

For me, Ratzinger's essay is crystal clear: to the author, the living Judaism of today means nothing. For him, Judaism is merely a precursor of Christianity, a memory. There is no substantial closeness between Jews and Christians due to the commonality of Scripture. Nowhere does Benedict try to understand the Jews as a community of faith after Christ, to appreciate their truth or even to learn from the Jewish tradition: for example, that a hopelessly broken marriage should be divorced, that women also can exercise ministry, that no one should remain alone, even if he is a priest. The church could also set an example for our dull hierarchies and our ability to innovate.

Joseph Ratzinger may not be an antisemite. But he steals our covenant with God, sneaking in like a thief in the night. We reject this categorically. As a rabbi, I hope that the Ecclesia triumphans of the former pope will find no spiritual revival and that the incumbent pope stands up for a new theology: in which Christians have entered into a covenant relationship with him through faith in God but have not replaced Judaism. May Pope Francis follow the declaration Nostra Aetate and lend permanence to the reform of his Church. May he radically refrain from any mission to the Jews and ignore this writing of Benedict!


Rabbi Walter Homolka is Professor of Jewish theology in Potsdam and Rector of the Abraham Geiger College. His most recent publication is Transitions: Observations of a Rabbi (Patmos).