The Attitude of Christians towards Judaism
Statement by the Bishops’ Committee for Relations with Jews, published by the French Bishops Conference
(April 16, 1973)
I. Jewish Existence as a problem addressed to the conscience of Christians
[…] The Church, speaking in the name of Jesus Christ and, through Him, linked to the Jewish people since her beginnings and for all time, perceives in the uninterrupted existence of this people through the centuries a sign that she would wish fully to understand.
[…] On October 28, 1965, the Second Vatican Council solemnly promulgated the Declaration Nostra Aetate, which contains a chapter on the Jewish people. We reaffirm the importance of this text, which recalls that the Church nourishes herself from the roots of the true olive tree onto which the wild branches, i.e. the Gentiles, were grafted. As Espiscopal Committee for the Relations with Jews, it is our duty to point out the topical significance of this Declaration and indicate its practical application.
The position taken by the Second Vatican Council should be considered a beginning rather than a final achievement. It marks a turning point in Christian attitudes toward Jews and opens a path, permitting us to take the exact measure of our task. The Council Statement bases itself on a return to Scriptural sources and breaks with the mentality of the past. It calls all Christians to a new vision of the Jewish people, not only on the level of human relations, but also on that of faith.
III. The permanent vocation of the Jewish people
We cannot consider the Jewish religion as we would any others now existing in the world. Through the people of Israel, faith in the One God was inscribed on the history of mankind and monotheism became – even with certain differences – the common good of three great families, which claim the heritage of Abraham, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. According to biblical revelation, God Himself constituted this people, brought it up, advised it of His plans, concluding with it an eternal Covenant (Gen 17:7), and giving it a vocation, which St. Paul qualifies as “irrevocable” (Rom 11:29). We are indebted to the Jewish people for the Five Books of the Law, the Prophets and the other Scriptures, which complete the message. After having been collected by oral and written tradition, these precepts were received by Christians without, however, dispossessing the Jews.
Even though in Jesus Christ the Covenant was renewed for Christendom, the Jewish people must not be looked upon by Christians as a mere social and historical reality but most of all as a religious one; not as the relic of a venerable and finished past but as a reality alive through the ages. The principal features of this vitality of the Jewish people are its collective faithfulness to the One God; its fervor in studying the Scriptures to discover, in the light of Revelation, the meaning of human life; its search for an identity amidst other men; its constant efforts to re-assemble as a new, unified community. These signs pose questions to us Christians, which touch on the heart of our faith. What is the proper mission of the Jews in the divine plan? What expectations animate them, and in what respect are these expectations different from or similar to, our own?
V. To gain a fair understanding of Judaism
Christians, if only for their own good, should acquire a true and sincere understanding of Jewish tradition.
a) A genuinely Christian catechesis must stress the topical importance of the entire Bible. The first Covenant was not made invalid by the Second. The former is the root and source, the foundation and the promise. If it is true that the Old Testament renders its ultimate meaning to us only in the light of the New, it is nevertheless required that we should first receive and understand it by itself (cf. 2 Tim 3:16). We must not forget that Jesus, by His obedience to the Torah and its prayers, accomplished His ministry within the pale of the Covenant people.
Throughout history, Jewish existence has always been divided between life among the nations and the wish for national existence on that land [of Israel]. This aspiration poses numerous problems even to the Jews.
Justice is put to the test by this return [to the land of Israel] and its repercussions. On the political level, it has caused confrontations between various claims for justice. Beyond the legitimate divergence of political options, the conscience of the world community cannot refuse the Jewish people, who had to submit to so many vicissitudes in the course of its history, the right and means for a political existence among the nations. At the same time, this right and the opportunities for existence cannot be refused to those who, in the course of local conflicts resulting from this return, are now victims of grave injustice.
Let us then, turn our eyes toward this land visited by God and let us actively hope that it may become a place where one day all its inhabitants, Jews and non-Jews, can live together in peace. It is an essential question, faced by Christians as well as Jews, whether or not the ingathering of the dispersed Jewish people – which took place under pressure of persecution and by the play of political forces – will despite so many tragic events prove to be one of the final ways of God’s justice for the Jewish people and at the same time for all the nations of the earth. How could Christians remain indifferent to what is now being decided in that land?
VI. To promote mutual knowledge and esteem
Most encounters between Jews and Christians are still marked by mutual ignorance and a certain distrust. Such attitudes have been in the past and could become again in the future, sources of grave misunderstandings and formidable ills. We consider it essential and urgent that the faithful, priests, and all those responsible for education endeavor to create among Christians a better understanding of Judaism, its traditions, customs and history.
VII. The Church and the Jewish people
b) Israel and the Church are not complementary institutions; their permanent vis à vis is a sign that the divine plan is not yet complete. Christians and Jews are thus in a situation of mutual contest, or according to Saint Paul, of “jealousy” with regard to unity (Rom 11:14; cf. Deut 32:23).
Is not the Messianic time their common concern [of Jews and Christians]? It is desirable that they enter the road of mutual acceptance and appreciation and, repudiating their former enmity, turn toward the Father, with one and the same movement of hope, which will be a promise for the entire world.