What We Have Gained: "Our Elder Brothers"

A theme of Pope Benedict's speeches and writings is the idea of the "Hermaneutic of Continuity" with regards to Vatican II.  In other words, the proper starting point for understanding the documents of Vatican II is that they reflect a continuation of what came before, and are consistent with what came before, even if the presentation is different.  Much can be said about this concept, but I think even Pope Benedict would agree that the following passage from the Vatican II document Nostra Aetate ("In Our Time") is a profound departure from what came before it:

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. 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)....

True, the Jewish authorities and those who followed their lead pressed for the death of Christ; still, what happened in His passion cannot be charged against all the Jews, without distinction, then alive, nor against the Jews of today. Although the Church is the new people of God, the Jews should not be presented as rejected or accursed by God, as if this followed from the Holy Scriptures. All should see to it, then, that in catechetical work or in the preaching of the word of God they do not teach anything that does not conform to the truth of the Gospel and the spirit of Christ.

 Furthermore, in her rejection of every persecution against any man, the Church, mindful of the patrimony she shares with the Jews and moved not by political reasons but by the Gospel's spiritual love, decries hatred, persecutions, displays of anti-Semitism, directed against Jews at any time and by anyone.

Prior to this document, Catholic theology with regard to Judaism revolved around the concept of "supercessionism."  A central concept of Christian theology is that Jesus's coming fulfilled in a total way the covenant made by God to Abraham and Moses, such that those that believed in Him were incorporated into that agreement.  Where did that leave those who sought to keep the covenant according to the old order?  This simple answer from the supercessionist perspective is--nowhere.  Post-Second Temple Rabbinic Judaism rejected Jesus as the Messiah, and thus rejected the covenant.  Thus, Rabbinic Judaism has no particular relevance from a Christian point of view.

Or, if you like your theology with more Chyrons, our buddy Michael Voris will explain it to you:

Whether or not this theological positions leads inevitably to the persecution of Jews seen in many parts of Europe, the unquestioned fact is that it was used as a justification for the pogroms. 

I cannot pretend to be unbiased in looking at this question.  It is a cliche, but in my case it is true--"some of my best friends are Jewish."  While I suppose it would not be impossible to maintain such a close relationship with my friends if my religion was still operating under the old model, I think it would have to be much harder.  So, from that perspective I am very happy for this development.  My life would be far, far less interesting, not to mention less happy, without them.

As far as the theology goes, I know that, next to the changes in the Liturgy, this document (and its companion Dignitatis Humanae on religious freedom) is the one that gets the anti-Vatican II crowd the most worked up.  Many would, I suspect, subscribe to the Voris move of trying to separate out the discrimination and persecution from the theological issue, particularly in light of the Holocaust.  But they would argue that Nostra Aetate weakens the Christian claim to the unique role of Christ in salvation history.  After all, if on some level its OK for at least one group of people to reject Jesus, why can't everyone reject Jesus? 

I think that proves too much.  Pope John Paul II used the phrase "Our Elder Brothers in faith" to refer to Judaism, and I think that beautifully captures a unique and special kind of relationship.  I don't have an older brother, but I have a younger one, and I know that you don't have to agree with everything your brother does or says, nor should you be judged by their actions (or visa versa).  You can still think your brother is very wrong about certain key things.  But you do have to love them and respect their role in your life.

To me, the reason why we have gained from Nostra Aetate is captured in the Great Intercessions said on Good Friday.  Here's the pre-1955 Tridentine version (translated from Latin, obviously):

Let us pray also for the perfidious Jews: that our God and Lord would remove the veil from their hearts: that they also may acknowledge our Lord Jesus Christ....Almighty and everlasting God, who drivest not away from Thy mercy even the perfidious Jews: hear our prayers, which we offer for the blindness of that people: that, acknowledging the light of Thy truth, which is Christ, they may be rescued from their darkness. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, Thy Son, who liveth and reigneth with Thee in the unity of the Holy Ghost, God, world without end.

Here's the version in the current Good Friday Liturgy:

Let us pray for the Jewish people, the first to hear the word of God, that they may continue to grow in the 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 our Lord. Amen.

I'm comfortable with #2.


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