On December 10, the Vatican’s Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews issued “The Gifts and the Calling of God Are Irrevocable,” an explicitly non-magisterial, non-doctrinal “reflection” on the theological questions that have cropped up after Nostra aetate.
Paragraphs 41 through 44 of the reflection have gotten a lot of attention in the press. Essentially, “The Gifts and the Calling” is an institutional expression of the so-called Two Covenant Theory, which holds that the covenant between God and the Jewish people remains in force, notwithstanding the New Law. This idea—which draws upon Paul’s Letter to the Romans—is an awfully complicated question, and a relatively recent development. On the other side of the question, Pius XII in Mystici Corporis, for example, held that the Old Law was abolished in favor of the New Law by Christ’s death on the Cross. (It is unfortunate that the Commission did not address Mystici Corporis and other magisterial documents that preceded Nostra aetate, which would no doubt have been on the Council fathers’ minds as they debated the question.) But all of this is hugely complicated—to say nothing of how sensitive the whole matter is in the wake of the horrors of the Holocaust—and well beyond our limited theological knowledge.
However, Father John Hunwicke has been posting and reposting a series of reflections on the Commission’s document and Nostra aetate. One of these reflections makes the very interesting point that Christ’s actions were pointed toward Temple-based Judaism and its strongly sacrificial aspects, and Christianity, as found in Christ’s Church, supersedes that form of Judaism. Fr. Hunwicke quotes Rabbi Jacob Neusner, an eminent scholar who has spent a lot of time thinking about Christian-Jewish relations, who argues the institution of the Eucharist was intended to replace the sin-offerings at the Temple. And, of course, Christ referred to himself as the Temple in John’s Gospel when challenged by leaders of the Jewish community. Thus, when one discusses supersessionism, one must, as Fr. Hunwicke says, be precise about what supersedes what.
All of this is a hugely interesting question, and while the Commission’s document has been criticized harshly for the points made in paragraphs 41 through 44, we think that the document, to the extent that it prompts reflection and discussion—particularly interfaith discussion among scholars who know from what on these matters—on these issues is a valuable contribution to dialogue. Even if it is explicitly non-magisterial and non-doctrinal.