Dialogue with Judaism is necessary and possible

 — Mar. 14, 200914 mars 2009

Last November, attention turned once again to comments made by Pope Benedict XVI, this time on dialogue with Islam. Precisely as the Vatican was intensifying efforts to open dialogues with Islam on ethical and other practical issues, a book was published in Italy by Marcello Pera that contained a forward written by the pope. In this text, the pope commended Pera’s argument that interreligious dialogue is not strictly possible. The book, entitled “Why We Must Call Ourselves Christian” was an argument for the indispensably Christian character of Europe. Prior to his election as pope, Cardinal Ratzinger had co-authored another book with Pera about Europe’s identity, and so it is not a great surprise that he would write a forward for another book on the same subject by his academic colleague.

The incident provides further illustration of Benedict’s continuing engagement in intellectual and academic disputes. In one sense, this is highly desirable in any pope. Having a pope who comprehends the subtle nuances of theological, philosophical, and historical debates is especially important in the context of increasing religious pluralism. However, as one blogger put it, the chair of Peter is not a faculty chair. When every word of a pope is sifted for meaning, it is no longer possible to engage in speculation.

On Thursday, while another of the pope’s public spectacles was being put to rest by his letter admitting mistakes in the lifting of the excommunication of the Lefebvrite bishops, the pope met with representatives of the Chief Rabbinate of Israel to express his encouragement for their dialogue with the Vatican. As a prelude to Benedict’s visit to Israel in May, the audience with the Chief Rabbinate was an opportunity for the pope to affirm his commitment to Catholic-Jewish dialogue. This audience with the chief rabbis should be understood as part of the damage control by the Vatican in the wake of the controversy that arose after it became known that one of the Lefebvrite bishops, Richard Williamson, was a Holocaust-denier. In the past six weeks, the Vatican has been at pains to assert its commitment to Catholic-Jewish dialogue and to disassociate from Williamson’s odious views.

There is an interesting connection between the pope’s comments to the chief rabbis and the comments expressed in his forward to Pera’s book. In his comments to Pera he could affirm that interreligious dialogue is not, in the strict sense of the word, possible. Whatever we might think about that startling claim, on Thursday we observe Benedict affirming the dialogue between Judaism and Christianity as both necessary and possible. He returns to the Vatican II declaration on relations with non-Christian religions, Nostra Aetate (1965). There the Council teaches that the church’s acknowledgement of the rich spiritual patrimony with Judaism makes dialogue both necessary and possible. As well, the pope explains, “if the church acknowledges that God’s intervention in the history of the Jewish people is at the foundation of Christian faith then this conveys to all humanity the importance of faith in one God.”

The pope’s comments on Thursday should not be understood as conflicting with his comments in Pera’s book. As Fr. Federico Lombardi the Vatican spokesman explained in November, the pope’s forward was intended to draw interest to Pera’s book. The comments in the book were imprecise and the pope has not elaborated on them. One can presume that he notes a philosophical problem at the root of dialogue between two differing religious systems, such as Christianity and Islam. He is careful to root his affirmation of Christian-Jewish dialogue in the teaching of the Second Vatican Council. The Council’s teaching is not just convenient to repeat at a meeting with the rabbis, it actually constrains Benedict to affirm the dialogue, and provides the foundation for that dialogue which distinguishes it from all other dialogues: the rich spiritual patrimony shared with Judaism. Thus, his affirmation of dialogue with Judaism confirms two essential details in Benedict’s theological commitments. First, his commitment to the conciliar teachings, even those that the traditionalists do not like. And even more importantly, his recognizes that at its roots, Christianity is grafted to the tree of Israel. When Christians affirm that the church is Israel, “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people” (I Peter 2:9) this is not to the exclusion of the Jewish people, but rather “the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord.” (Eph 2:21, cf. 2:11-22)

Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church concerning the remission of the excommunication of the four Bishops consecrated by Archbishop Lefebvre (Mar. 10, 2009)
Dialogue with Judaism is necessary and possible (Mar. 12, 2009)
Pope says he regrets ‘mistakes’ over Holocaust’ case (Mar. 12, 2009)
Interfaith Dialogue Impossible: Pope (Nov. 25, 2008)
Pope Questions Interfaith Dialogue (Nov. 23, 2008)

Posted: Mar. 14, 2009 • Permanent link: ecumenism.net/?p=564
Categories: DialogueIn this article: Benedict XVI, Catholic, interfaith, Islam, Judaism, Vatican
Transmis : 14 mars 2009 • Lien permanente : ecumenism.net/?p=564
Catégorie : DialogueDans cet article : Benedict XVI, Catholic, interfaith, Islam, Judaism, Vatican

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