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Building on Nostra Aetate: 50 Years of Christian-Jewish Dialogue, with Cardinal Koch

ImageThe John Paul II Center for Interreligious Dialogue hosted its fifth annual John Paul II Lecture on Interreligious Understanding, featuring Cardinal Kurt Koch, president of the pontifical council for promoting Christian Unity and the commission for religious relations with the Jews. His topic was “Building on Nostra Aetate: 50 Years of Christian-Jewish Dialogue.” (full text)

The lecture was the highlight of a busy week for the Center, with a series of meetings and receptions around the Russell Berrie Fellowship and the relationship of the Angelicum University and the Russell Berrie Foundation, which is made manifest in the John Paul II Center. About 150 people attended, including the president emeritus of Ireland, Mary MacAleese, ambassadors to the Holy See from several countries, the U.S. Special Envoy for combating anti-Semitism, the new rector of the Angelicum Fr. Miroslav Adam, and Cardinal Walter Kasper.

His Eminence addressed the topic in seven sections. Nostra Aetate itself, he summed up with “YES to our Jewish roots, NO to anti-Semitism”, and as the ‘magna charta’ of Jewish-Catholic dialogue. That Nostra Aetate took up this question and set an unambiguous position that “in the Catholic Church, [Jews] have a reliable ally in the struggle against anti-Semitism.” It affirms, as Pope John Paul II said during his 1986 visit to the Roman synagogue, that

“The Jewish religion is not something ‘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.”

With regard to the reception history of Vatican II, he says that “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 reorientation of the Catholic Church following the Council”. This statement, incidentally, points to a hermeneutic that clearly holds that the purpose of the Council was a reorientation of the Catholic Church.

He outlined the historical and theological reasons for including the dialogue with Jews in the Council for Christian Unity rather than the one for Interreligious Dialogue:

“The separation of Church and Synagogue can be considered the first schism in the history of the church, or as the Catholic theologian Erich Przywara has called it, the ‘primal rift’, from which he derives later progressive loss of wholeness in the Catholica.”

This was followed by a survey of post-conciliar documents building on Nostra Aetate, the most recent from the Commission being the 1998 We Remember: A Reflection on the Shoah, and then a similar treatment of global international dialogues and their development, the result of which is that,

“Confrontation has turned into successful collaboration, the previous conflict potential has become positive conflict management, and the coexistence of the past has been replaced by a load-bearing friendship.”

While he acknowledges that the real papal impetus for dialogue began with Paul VI, he points out that this engagement by the leadership of the universal Catholic Church was only really apprehended by the wider public in the form of Pope John Paul II, who “had a refined sense for grand gestures and strong images” as compared to, for example, Pope Benedict XVI, who “relies above all on the power of the word and humble encounter.”

Of Ratzinger, Koch highlighted the theologian Ratzinger’s understanding of the bible as one single book, with the old testament inseparable from the new. He likewise highlights the German Shepherd’s book, Jesus of Nazareth, in which he clearly reiterates Church teaching that  the biblical report of the trial of Jesus cannot serve as the basis for any assertion of collective Jewish guilt: “Jesus’ blood raises no call for retaliation, but calls all to reconciliation. It has become as the letter ot the Hebrews shows, itself the permanent Day of Atonement of God.”

He concludes by engaging open theological questions and prospects. The question of the role of Christ in the salvation of the Jews, given the enduring covenant of God: What is the mission to the Jews, if there is one? How do we reconcile these two truths without offering a parallel path of extra-Christological salvation?

Cardinal Koch sees anti-semitism, anti-Judaism, and Marcionism as still-present challenges which the Catholic Church must and does denounce as a betrayal of Christian faith. An expression of this question is found in the recently revised Good Friday prayers for use in the ‘extraordinary form’ of the Latin liturgy, which itself raises questions about “lex orandi, lex credendi”, when we have seen four versions in forty years. Liturgically, he also critiqued both preachers who omit the old testament readings from their reflections, and presiders who “change the mass” omit the original Hebrew meanings of the prayers.

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Cardinal Koch with Berrie Fellows

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