DAYTON CHRISTIAN JEWISH DIALOGUE
Minutes of Open Meeting
Date: April 26, 1992
Location: Kennedy Union Ballroom, University of Dayton
Meeting Topic: COVENANT OR COVENANTS
Facilitator: Vincent Branick, Professor of Religious Studies, University of Dayton
MEMBERS PRESENT: Jerry & Lorraine Kotler, Cochairs; Glenn Duckwall, Phyllis Duckwall, Sylvester Eveslage, Mrs. Eveslage, Shirley Flacks, Evelyn Glackman, Edith Holsinger, Eleonor Koenigsberg, Harry Koenigsberg, Carrie LaBriola, Ken Lotney, Shirley McKee, Arch McMillan, Bob Mass, Eileen Moorman, Bill Rain, Ken Rosenzweig, Harold Rubenstein, Sophie Rubenstein, Louis Ryterband, Dieter Walk, Susie Walk.
GUESTS PRESENT: Elizabeth Burks, Goldie Scherberg, Max Scherberg.
Jerry Kotler called the meeting to order at 7:45 PM by noting that this was the 18th Open Meeting of the Dayton Christian Jewish Dialogue. Jerry began the speaker's introduction by citing some of the painful history of relations between Catholics and Jews, often aggravated by the prevalent theme in Catholicism of "supersessionism," the belief that Christianity had created a new divine covenant with Christians which replaced and negated the covenant between God and the Jewish People. Jerry then introduced the speaker, Vincent Branick, Professor of Religious Studies at the University of Dayton.
Prof. Branick began his remarks by emphasizing the importance of theological reflection. He cited the common practice in Jewish-Christian dialogue for Christians to focus on theology while Jews concentrate on history and politics. Nevertheless, theological exchange is important. Past persecution of Jews was grounded in Christian theological beliefs and doing away with persecution will require theological change. Recent major changes in Catholic theology came about in the midst of interreligious dialogue and thus dialogue is critical to the creation of a humane theology. Vince also emphasized the importance of science as a method of purifying theology.
As members of theological communities, both Jews and Catholics respectively share foundational stories and images from Scriptures. Many of these stories have ambiguous meanings. Unfortunately, during much of the history of the Catholic Church, the emphasis on theological purity has overwhelmed the importance of the stories. The Second Vatican Council marked a return to emphasis on the foundational stories.
In early Christian writings, two books stand out for the intensity of their polemic against Jews, the Gospels of John and Matthew. These books reflect the animosity that was prevalent in the times they were written between the church and the synagogue. For theological reasons, Matthew and John needed to designate Jews as being in opposition to Jesus. Later, in about 150 AD, Marcion combined New Testament theology with Gnostic contempt for the material world. This resulted in his advocating the supersession of the Hebrew Scriptures by the Christian Scriptures. Later, the Emperor Constantine converted to Christianity and made it the state religion of the Roman Empire. There was a major shift toward anti-Jewish actions in the Catholic world between the 13th and the 16th centuries. This was reflected in the edicts of the Council of Basil in the 14th Century. During the Protestant Reformation in the 16th and 17th centuries, Christians focused on fighting with each other and this provided a reprieve for Jews. The Enlightenment of the 18th century provided further opportunities for Jews. Later, Pope Pius X communicated with Theodore Herzl about Zionism. For theological reasons, Pius could not endorse Zionism. However, outside of these theological concerns, many in the Catholic Church at that time viewed Zionism favorably as a humanitarian concern.
A major change in Jewish-Catholic relations came in 1965 with the publication of Nostra Aetatae by the 2nd Vatican Council. This encyclical emphasizes the bond of Christianity with the descendents of Abraham and points out that Jews still remain dear to God. The document also condemns the belief that Jews are guilty of deicide and repudiates the persecution of the Jews. The document frequently cites Paul, the early Christian-Jew, rather than later writers who were often anti-Semitic. Nostra Aetatae and later Vatican documents deny the view of supersession and affirm both the Old and the New Covenants. The document, in effect, acknowledges that the Jewish religion did not die in 70 AD with the destruction of the Temple. Rather the history of Diaspora Jewry carries a witness of the Jewish People's commitment to their covenant with God.
Eugene Fisher's recent work on parallel covenants represents another major theological shift. He emphasizes that the new theology must demonstrate the relationship between Christianity and Judaism after Jesus. The most complete revision of Christian theology is by the Protestant theologian, John Gager. He maintains that both the Torah and Christian Scriptures are each valid and neither has any superiority over the other. They are two parallel ways to salvation. However Vince has doubts that Gager's position is consistent with Catholic thinking. It may involve an overly liberal reading of Paul and may ignore the unity of creation that is central to Catholic theology. In fact, Catholic theology has trouble with the concept of two equal covenants. Vatican disseminated theology cannot get away from the assumption of the superiority of Catholic faith over other faiths. Although Catholic theology has come to respect other faiths, the assumption of the superiority of Catholic theology over that of other faiths makes the recognition of the equal validity of dual covenants shallow.
In the Hebrew Scriptures, there are many covenants, including those associated with Noah, Abraham, Moses, and David. Each covenant constitutes a further specification of the same covenant. The making of the covenant in Scriptures is always followed by the breaking of the covenant. The repeated covenants thus reflect God as an undaunted lover of humanity.
The Epistle to the Hebrews refers to an improved covenant. The superiority of this covenant arises from the fact that it is written on the heart of man rather than in texts. Paul twice uses the imagery of an improved covenant but never advocates supersessionism.
The Mosaic covenant is modeled after the Suzeraine treaties whereby less powerful kings contracted with more powerful kings for protection.
Eugene Fisher pointed out that for Catholics, the relationship of Jews and Christians is founded on eschatology rather than christology. There is room in Christian theology for the Jewish anticipation of the coming of the Messiah because Jesus' life did not usher in the Messianic Age (of peace and tranquility). The fundamental difference between Jews and Christians concerning the Messiah can actually create a bond between Jews and Christians; it emphasizes the fundamental mystery of all religious experience.
Vince's formal talk concluded at about 8:55 PM, after which there was a refreshment break. The meeting reconvened at 9:15 PM for a discussion session.
Bob Maas asked about the meaning of a specific New Testament parable. In responding, Vince described the scholarly technique of hermeneutics which involves understanding a text in light of the historical and social context in which it was written.
Lou commented on the Marcion separation of Christians and Jews and speculated that Jews may in some cases have been left alone as a living representation of the consequences of failure to accept Jesus as the Messiah. Shirley pointed out that since the people that Jesus dealt with were predominantly Jews, his castigation of Jews recorded in the Christian Scriptures may have represented normal competitive discourse between Jews with different viewpoints, similar to the castigation of Jews by the Prophets.
Harold discussed the difference between Christianity and Judaism concerning the meaning of the coming of the Messiah. For Jews, the Messiah's coming is in the future and Jews have a responsibility to attempt to correct the world's flaws in order to prepare the way for the Messiah's coming. For Christians, the Messiah's coming is in the past and this contributes to Christians' passivity since the world has already been saved by his coming. John Magee asked about the comparison between the Jewish belief in the coming of the Messiah and the Christian belief in the Second Coming. Vince elaborated on this comparison. Ken Lotney continued the discussion of differences between Jews and Christians in their concept of the Messiah. Vince cited two definitions, "anointed one" and "instrument of God," but pointed out that unity does not even exist in the Jewish concept of the Messiah. Furthermore, the Christian concept of the Messiah has changed considerably over time. For example, early Christians, prior to John, did not see Jesus as divine. Elizabeth Burks pointed out that Judaism prohibited the worship of a human being, even the Messiah, and this was therefore a significant difference between Jews and Christians. Edith responded that when we worship a man who is divine, we are saying that God is in all human beings. Vince clarified this concept by maintaining that man is not God but God is in all men (the concept of incarnation). In other words, human nature is capable of God.
Jerry cited a recent article in the Dayton Jewish Chronicle by David Friedman, "The Catholic Church's anti-Jewish theology, Part 1," which quotes extensively from Father Edward Flanery. Father Flanery rationalizes the anti-Jewish declarations of Church fathers. The article thus raises the question of how the church can revise its theology without denigrating its fundamental historical thinkers. Vince replied that we must read the works of these thinkers analytically, recognizing their failures. Lou pointed out that, although official Church teachings have changed, Catholics may still be taught on the local level that the saints were 100% right. Vince disagreed, saying that teachings have significantly changed.
Dieter Walk asked about the dual covenant citations from the Christian scriptures, particularly John. Ken Rosenzweig asked about Eugene Fisher's contention that Jews' and Christians' recognition of the fundamental mystery of religious matters can be the foundation of interreligious dialogue. Vince responded that this recognition of religious mystery does not require any forsaking of religious belief.
Lorraine thanked Vince for a magnificent presentation. She then asked him about his statement that official Church teaching is that, while the Jewish covenant has not been superceded, the Christian covenant is an improvement over the Jewish covenant. Vince responded that Catholics do believe this. Therefore, Jewish conversion to reap the rewards of this improved covenant should not be discouraged. Catholics recognize that conversion is a delicate issue since it causes intense paid in the family of the convert. However, Catholics no longer believe that ones religion determines salvation. Eileen replied that she personally would never want a Jew to become a Christian because she respects the integrity of both traditions.
The meeting adjourned at around 10:00 PM.
Secretaries Note: Joe Araha called on April 11 to say he has moved to Indianapolis and will no longer be able to attend meetings. He sends his regards to all the members.