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Apostate Saint

In reflecting upon the witness of Sister Teresa Benedicta of the Cross (Edith Stein) whose feast the Church celebrates today, I came upon a provocative and illuminating article by the Jewish theologian, David Novak. Writing in 1999, Novak said in part:

Supersessionism is the subject of deep theological debate today. Many Jews have seen it as the core of Christian anti-Judaism. Many Christians are embarrassed by it, seeing it as part of the anti-Judaism that was so easily appropriated by modern anti-Semitism. Yet, Christian supersessionism need not denigrate Judaism. It can look to the Jewish origins of Christianity happily and still learn of those origins from living Jews, whom Pope John Paul II likes to call "elder brothers." Christian supersessionism can still affirm that God has not annulled his everlasting covenant with the Jewish people, neither past nor present nor future. Jews can expect no more than that from Christians, and Christians probably cannot concede any more to Judaism. For if Christianity does not regard itself as going beyond Judaism, why should Christians not become Jews? And, conversely, any Jew who believes Christianity supersedes Judaism can only in good faith become a Christian—as Edith Stein did.

Fruitful conversations of late between Jews and Christians have largely bracketed this critical issue for good reasons. It is, nevertheless, the crucial question that leaves the two communities at an impasse. All attempts to get beyond it—be they political, exegetical, or philosophical—have been failures. After all, it is the question of truth, and truth is what we are both all about. To bracket this question is quite different from either suppressing it altogether or reducing all discussion to it.

Edith Stein represents our impasse. She cannot be a bridge between Jews and Catholics because in this world one cannot be simultaneously both a faithful Jew and a faithful Catholic. Since the Jewish and Catholic communities are mutually exclusive, and both Jews and Catholics derive their identities from God’s covenant with their communities, no member of one community can also be a member in good standing of the other. Moreover, one cannot expect the approval of the covenanted community one has left. As with Abraham our father, the answer to God’s call always involves leaving some earlier household in one way or another, and that household does not and cannot provide one with a warm farewell.

One should be able to access the full article here.

About the Author

Rev. Robert P. Imbelli, a priest of the Archdiocese of New York, is Associate Professor of Theology Emeritus at Boston College.



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Father Imbelli, always grateful for your thoughful posts, I'll finally take this opportunity to say, thank you!


Interesting article.  I've only recently read about Edith Stein and the controversy over her canonization ... ...   and I was kind of depressed to read elsewhere that she was such a champion of complementarianism.  She actually wrote that women have different kinds of souls than men.  No big surprise, I guess, that JPII liked her so much, given his attitude towards women and his Theology of the Body.

Shortly after that 1999 article, the USCCB issued a statement that Catholics should not be seeking the conversion of Jews. Avery Dulles objected to that and the USCCB softened the statement. In 2011, Joseph Ratzinger, in volume 2 of his "Jesus of Nazareth" endorsed the view that the Church should not be seeking the conversion of Jews.  Here is John Allen's review:

After excerpts from the second volume of the pope’s book on Jesus made the rounds last week, featuring his rejection of the idea that “the Jews” killed Christ, the full text adds another point with important implications for Christian/Jewish relations -- in effect, that Christianity “must not concern herself with the conversion of the Jews.”

The comment comes in Benedict XVI’s book Jesus of Nazareth: Holy Week, the full text of which was released today.

While the pope does not affirm a theory propounded by some theologians holding that the Jews will be saved independently of Christ, experts say, he does clearly suggest the church should not be targeting Jews for conversion efforts

“Israel is in the hands of God, who will save it ‘as a whole’ at the proper time, when the number of Gentiles is full,” the pope writes. The historical duration of this “proper time,” Benedict says, cannot be calculated.

In terms of the proper Christian attitude in the meantime, Benedict approvingly quotes Cistercian abbess and Biblical writer Hildegard Brem: “The church must not concern herself with the conversion of the Jews, since she must wait for the time fixed for this by God.”

Although Benedict XVI stipulated in the first volume of his book that he writes as a private theologian rather than authoritatively as head of the Catholic church, his comments inevitably carry weight as indications of the way Benedict is likely to approach these questions as pope.

The question of conversion has long been among the most explosive in the arena of Catholic/Jewish relations. Still today, perceptions in the Jewish world that Christians are targeting them for missionary efforts produce sharply negative reactions.

Benedict XVI acknowledges that the question of “Israel’s mission” in God’s plan has a painful past

“We realize today with horror how many misunderstandings with grave consequences have weighed down our history,” he writes. Yet, the pope says, “the beginnings of a correct understanding have always been there, waiting to be rediscovered, however deep the shadows.”

The key to that correct understanding, Benedict writes, lies in the Biblical notion of the “times of the Gentiles.”

The charge given by Jesus to carry the Gospel to the ends of the earth, Benedict says, implies a sequence: first the “full number” of the Gentiles comes to the faith, and only then the Jews. He quotes St. Bernard of Clairvaux’s advice to one of his predecessors, Pope Eugene III, that “a determined time has been fixed” for the conversion of the Jews “that cannot be anticipated.”

Benedict says that in the early church, the urgency of evangelization wasn’t based so much on the idea that every human being had to know Christ in order to be saved, but rather on a “grand conception of history,” according to which the Gospel had to reach all the nations in order for the world to fulfill its destiny.

Until God’s plan comes to fruition, Benedict says, the “particular task” of the disciples of Christ is to carry the faith to the Gentiles, not to the Jews.

The question of whether including Jews in the church’s missionary efforts is legitimate has long been a debated point in Catholic circles.

Almost ten years ago, the late Cardinal Avery Dulles was critical of a joint statement from the National Council of Synagogues and the Committee for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs of the U.S. Bishops’ Conference to the effect that “targeting Jews for conversion to Christianity” is “no longer theologically acceptable in the Catholic Church.”

Dulles replied that the church cannot curtail the scope of the gospel without betraying itself: “Once we grant that there are some persons for whom it is not important to acknowledge Christ, to be baptized and to receive the sacraments, we raise questions about our own religious life,” he wrote.

Subsequently, the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Doctrine issued a clarification in 2009 that most experts regarded as largely upholding the position taken by Dulles. Its conclusion was, “The fulfillment of the covenants, indeed, of all God’s promises to Israel, is found only in Jesus Christ.

Allen quoted Fr. Weinandy of the USCCB on the new book:

Capuchin Fr. Thomas Weinandy, executive director of the U.S. bishops’ Secretariat for Doctrine, cautioned that Benedict XVI’s lines on Judaism in the new book do not endorse a “two-covenant” theology, meaning that Christianity and Judaism represent two parallel paths to salvation, so that Jews are saved without any reference to Christ.

At the same time, Weinandy said, the pope’s words do clearly indicate that “there’s no specific program that the Catholic church has to convert Jews, which is in God’s time.”

Fr. Imbelli, I'm grateful for your daring to broach this sensitive topic.  It is one that I've struggled with.

If, as Novak states, supersessionism is the impasse, then might that be another way of saying that Jesus is the impasse, as Jesus is himself (we believe) the revelation and fulfillment of what God has planned for us?

We need to get precision and clarity as to what constitutes supersessionism.  If supersessionism is deemed to be sinful, and a Christian profession of faith is intrinsically supersessionist, and if Christians are under an obligation to profess our faith - that doesn't seem to be a resolvable conundrum.  

Novak's call for tolerance and understanding on both "sides" is welcome.


Here is a pertinent passage from Evangelii Gaudium:

249. God continues to work among the people of the Old Covenant and to bring forth treasures of wisdom which flow from their encounter with his word. For this reason, the Church also is enriched when she receives the values of Judaism. While it is true that certain Christian beliefs are unacceptable to Judaism, and that the Church cannot refrain from proclaiming Jesus as Lord and Messiah, there exists as well a rich complementarity which allows us to read the texts of the Hebrew Scriptures together and to help one another to mine the riches of God’s word. We can also share many ethical convictions and a common concern for justice and the development of peoples.

Contra Novak, isn't the most important question, how the believer undertands and articulates their identity? Edith Stein identified herself as a Jewish Catholic. She embodied the harmony and if the objective religious bodies have a problem with her self-identification, shouldn't they be in dialogue with her? Is not her experience a valid criteria upon which to base ecumenical dialogue.

Simone Weil, while not formally baptized, considered herself Catholic and was attracted to Catholicism universality. The only thing that kept her out, she wrote, was two little words "anethema sit". There is too much true and beautiful in the world religions that she wished to embrace and by becoming part of the institution, she felt, she would have to discard it. Maybe the Second Vatican Council would have helped her integrate multiple identities within a singular faith.

Faith is an interior process that requires an external witness. Edith Stein made her profession but never betrayed her Jewish patrimony. Isn't that enough?

And their covenant has never been revoked:

247. We hold the Jewish people in special regard because their covenant with God has never been revoked, for “the gifts and the call of God are irrevocable” (Rom 11:29). The Church, which shares with Jews an important part of the sacred Scriptures, looks upon the people of the covenant and their faith as one of the sacred roots of her own Christian identity (cf. Rom 11:16-18). As Christians, we cannot consider Judaism as a foreign religion; nor do we include the Jews among those called to turn from idols and to serve the true God (cf. 1 Thes 1:9). With them, we believe in the one God who acts in history, and with them we accept his revealed word.

This makes me wonder about the meaning of ecumentism.  I've always assumed it meant respecting other religious groups' beliefs but so often in Catholicism it seems to mean turning everyone else into a Catholic.  The church does seem to make a big deal about those who have converted, like Stein, as if we and other religious groups were rival sports teams.


"And their covenant has never been revoked:"

Glad to know the Church has revoked its own former teaching about the Jews.  From the Baltimore Catechism:

Q. 1138. When did the civil and ceremonial laws of the Jews cease to exist?

A. The civil laws of the Jews ceased to exist when the Jewish people, shortly before the coming of Christ, ceased to be an independent nation. The ceremonial laws ceased to exist when the Jewish religion ceased to be the true religion; that is, when Christ established the Christian religion, of which the Jewish religion was only a figure or promise.

How fortuitious to read this -- and to learn that it's Edith Stein's feast day! -- on the day I'm finishing up revisions to an article on Merchant of Venice, Jewish conversions, and the struggle to read supersessionist theology as being more generous and ecumenical than it actually ever can be.

Many thanks.

If I understand Pope Benedict here, unless we understand ourselves to have been baptized into the life and mission of the Jew Jesus, then we have no genuine mieeion to the Gentiles, for the covenant with the Jews is the sole Covenant by which God's Chosen People have a mission to the Gentiles.

I would be interested to hear from someone like Alan Mitchell on whether or not the apostles and other Jewish members in the earliest Church thought it was impossible to be a Jew and a follower of Jesus. Gerelyn brings up the Baltimore Catechism, which was the basis of my Catholic education in elementary school in the 1950s. In it we found the following:

Q. 390. Why was the veil of the Temple torn asunder at the death of Christ?

A. The veil of the Temple was torn asunder at the death of Christ because at His death the Jewish religion ceased to be the true religion, and God no longer manifested His presence in the Temple.


Q. 391. Why did the Jewish religion, which up to the death of Christ had been the true religion, cease at that time to be the true religion?

A. The Jewish religion, which, up to the death of Christ, had been the true religion, ceased at that time to be the true religion, because it was only a promise of the redemption and figure of the Christian religion, and when the redemption was accomplished and the Christian religion established by the death of Christ, the promise and the figure were no longer necessary.

And yet, as I understand it, the apostles continued as practicing Jews, including attendance at the Temple. According to Acts, the so-called Council of Jerusalem did not oblige Gentile converts to the "Jesus movement" to follow most of the Law, but it certainly did not declare Judaism no longer "the one true religion" or exempt Jewish followers of Jesus from the Law. As one of my commentaries points out, if Mark was correct in saying that Jesus declared all foods clean, the apostles failed to grasp the fact. 


Looking back on the Baltimore Catechism, it is difficult not to feel that, even if it was not tinged with anti-Seitism (and I am not saying it wasn't), it must have made the Christian anti-Semite's heart fill with pride to know that at the moment of Jesus's death, Judaism ceased to be the true religion. 

Gerelyn, the next article is in tnat 1891 Catechism is:

Q. 1139. Why were not also the moral laws of the Jews abolished when the Christian religion was established?

A. The moral laws of the Jews could not be abolished by the establishment of the Christian religion because they regard truth and virtue and have been revealed by God, and whatever God has revealed as true must be always true, and whatever He has condemned in itself must always be bad.

However, I agree that prior to Vatican II, there wasn't much talk about whether what was true for gentiles was true in exactly the same way for Jews.

For instance, Pius XII's Mystici Corporis Christi of 1943:

29. And first of all, by the death of our Redeemer, the New Testament took the place of the Old Law which had been abolished; then the Law of Christ together with its mysteries, enactments, institutions, and sacred rites was ratified for the whole world in the blood of Jesus Christ. For, while our Divine Savior was preaching in a restricted area - He was not sent but to the sheep that were lost of the House of Israel [30] - the Law and the Gospel were together in force; [31] but on the gibbet of His death Jesus made void the Law with its decrees [32] fastened the handwriting of the Old Testament to the Cross, [33] establishing the New Testament in His blood shed for the whole human race.[34] "To such an extent, then," says St. Leo the Great, speaking of the Cross of our Lord, "was there effected a transfer from the Law to the Gospel, from the Synagogue to the Church, from the many sacrifices to one Victim, that, as Our Lord expired, that mystical veil which shut off the innermost part of the temple and its sacred secret was rent violently from top to bottom." [35]

30. On the Cross then the Old Law died, soon to be buried and to be a bearer of death, [36]....

I think the current view is to thread a line between supercessionism (the New Law replaced the Old for everyone, including Jews) and dual-Covenant Theology (the Old Covenant is still in effect for Jews and remains a permanent valid path to salvation for them) by introducing a time factor - that the New Covenant has replaced the Old for gentiles but not for Jews until some until some unknown time in the future when God will bring the Jews, as a nation, to know Christ. In the meantime, we should stick to spreading the Gospel to gentiles and not try to convert Jews -since that is in God's hands and to happen in His good time - perhaps not until the instant before the end of the world. 

I have read a little about the Messianic Jews, who try to practice Jewish cultural traditions while confessing belief in Jesus Christ.  But apparently they are considered Christians (and not Jews)  by the Jewish community. So I wonder if all Jews still await a messiah, or if some have given up on that, or have decided that the prophecies meant something other than an actual person who would fulfill this role on earth.

John, the Q. you quote is less anti-Semitic than 1138.  What about  1089?


Q. 1089. To what may we attribute the desire of the Jews to put Christ to death?

A. We may attribute the desire of the Jews to put Christ to death to the jealously, hatred and ill-will of their priests and the Pharisees, whose faults He rebuked and whose hypocrisy He exposed. By their slanders and lies they induced the people to follow them in demanding Our Lord's crucifixion.




Some Catholics were/are less anti-Semitic than others.  The 1891 Baltimore Catechism was mild compared to what was to come.  (Coughlin on the radio, e.g.)  And today, of course, the recrudescence of anti-Semitism is found on all points on the Catholic spectrum.  


Not to mention the 4th centurt church ...

My experience with a few Jews is that being Jewish is as much a cultural identity as anything else.  There most certainly are secular Jews.  Across the street from my house is a synagogue that is about as liberal as can be (they fly the gay pride flag in front on a daily basis -- and they rent their facility on Sundays to an Ethiopian Coptic Christian group).  Of course, the Orthodox and ultra-Orthodox Jews will take issue with any Jewish identity except for theirs.

Within Judaism itself there are as many opinions as to what is means to be Jewish as their are those opining.

A bit like Catholicism these days.

I didn't approve of the canonization of Edith Stein.  It seemed like an affront to her family and to all Jews.    (And to everyone who dislikes the political aspects of canonizations.)

But canonizations are political.  

This article is about some recent canonizations that troubled some observers:  Stein, Kolbe, Pio, Escriva, Maria Goretti, Juan Diego:

I don't think many/most Catholics pay much/any attention to these events.  Those who do should, imho, read widely, not narrowly, about the saint in question and the politcal, cultural, historical context in which s/he flourished.

Jim Pauweis,

thanks for your thoughts. You write that "Jesus is the impasse." One could equally say: "Jesus is the stumbling block" for Christians and Jews alike.

From the above quote, these lines particularly struck me:

if Christianity does not regard itself as going beyond Judaism, why should Christians not become Jews? And, conversely, any Jew who believes Christianity supersedes Judaism can only in good faith become a Christian—as Edith Stein did.

Fruitful conversations of late between Jews and Christians have largely bracketed this critical issue for good reasons. It is, nevertheless, the crucial question that leaves the two communities at an impasse. All attempts to get beyond it—be they political, exegetical, or philosophical—have been failures. After all, it is the question of truth, and truth is what we are both all about. To bracket this question is quite different from either suppressing it altogether or reducing all discussion to it.

"After all, it is the questionof truth, and truth is what we are both all about." As you know, a crucial spur to Edith Stein's conversion was her all-night reading of Teresa of Avila's Vida, after which she said simply: "this is truth!"

I fully agree with you when your write: " We need to get precision and clarity as to what constitutes supersessionism." Thus I would not write, as Novak did, that Edith Stein believed that "Christianity supersedes Judaism." I don't believe that "fulfillment" and "supersessionism" are equivalent notions. The icon of the Transfiguration, I believe, points the way.


Gerelyn, what a difference a hundred years makes in the Catechism

I. The Trial of Jesus

Divisions among the Jewish authorities concerning Jesus

595      Among the religious authorities of Jerusalem, not only were the Pharisee Nicodemus and the prominent Joseph of Arimathea both secret disciples of Jesus, but there was also long-standing dissension about him, so much so that St. John says of these authorities on the very eve of Christ’s Passion, “many... believed in him,” though very imperfectly.378 This is not surprising, if one recalls that on the day after Pentecost “a great many of the priests were obedient to the faith” and “some believers... belonged to the party of the Pharisees,” to the point that St. James could tell St. Paul, “How many thousands there are among the Jews of those who have believed; and they are all zealous for the Law.”379

596      The religious authorities in Jerusalem were not unanimous about what stance to take toward Jesus.380 The Pharisees threatened to excommunicate his followers.381 To those who feared that “everyone will believe in him, and the Romans will come and destroy both our holy place and our nation,” the high priest Caiaphas replied by prophesying: “It is expedient for you that one man should die for the people, and that the whole nation should not perish.”382 The Sanhedrin, having declared Jesus deserving of death as a blasphemer but having lost the right to put anyone to death, hands him over to the Romans, accusing him of political revolt, a charge that puts him in the same category as Barabbas who had been accused of sedition.383 The high priests also threatened Pilate politically so that he would condemn Jesus to death.384 (1753)

Jews are not collectively responsible for Jesus’ death

597      The historical complexity of Jesus’ trial is apparent in the Gospel accounts. The personal sin of the participants (Judas, the Sanhedrin, Pilate) is known to God alone. Hence we cannot lay responsibility for the trial on the Jews in Jerusalem as a whole, despite the outcry of a manipulated crowd and the global reproaches contained in the apostles’ calls to conversion after Pentecost.385 Jesus himself, in forgiving them on the cross, and Peter in following suit, both accept “the ignorance” of the Jews of Jerusalem and even of their leaders.386 Still less can we extend responsibility to other Jews of different times and places, based merely on the crowd’s cry: “His blood be on us and on our children!” a formula for ratifying a judicial sentence.387 As the Church declared at the Second Vatican Council: (1735839)

...[N]either all Jews indiscriminately at that time, nor Jews today, can be charged with the crimes committed during his Passion.... [T]he Jews should not be spoken of as rejected or accursed as if this followed from holy Scripture.388

All sinners were the authors of Christ’s Passion

598      In her Magisterial teaching of the faith and in the witness of her saints, the Church has never forgotten that “sinners were the authors and the ministers of all the sufferings that the divine Redeemer endured.”389 Taking into account the fact that our sins affect Christ himself,390 the Church does not hesitate to impute to Christians the gravest responsibility for the torments inflicted upon Jesus, a responsibility with which they have all too often burdened the Jews alone: (1851)

We must regard as guilty all those who continue to relapse into their sins. Since our sins made the Lord Christ suffer the torment of the cross, those who plunge themselves into disorders and crimes crucify the Son of God anew in their hearts (for he is in them) and hold him up to contempt. And it can be seen that our crime in this case is greater in us than in the Jews. As for them, according to the witness of the Apostle, “None of the rulers of this age understood this; for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.” We, however, profess to know him. And when we deny him by our deeds, we in some way seem to lay violent hands on him.391

Nor did demons crucify him; it is you who have crucified him and crucify him still, when you delight in your vices and sins.392

I see that the link will not work.  Back to the drawing board.


(John, I won't go into the reasons why I haven't read the CCC, but I think you're pointing out that it rejects anti-Semitism.  Glad to know that.  Thanks.)


Do you have a website of your own, maybe at Georgetown, where you could post the paper so that we could all see it?

One of my major disillusionments after becoming a Catholic was the realization that saints are usually not chosen because they're super good but because their canonization benegits the church in some way.

Gene Palumbo

Thatl ast link I posted should have worked.  Let me know if it didn't and I can put the article on my own website.


Regardless of what the various catechisms have said, and regardless of the need for the bishops' own doctrine guy to squish down Pope Benedict when he deviated from what Fr. Weinandy learned in the seminary, isn't the fact the Edith Stein is a saint what actually becomes controlling here, not the doctrine? If she can't be squared with the doctrine, so much the worse for the doctrine. No one has been raised to the altars for a paragraph in a catechism. Sister Teresa Benedicta was canonized for reasons the Church teaching and the Church theologizing may not fully understand. But now that she is there, the theology and teaching will just have to catch up. ISTM from their citations above that the most recent popes may  have decided to deal with supersessionism by ignoring it. Pray to Saint Teresa B, and she will help you understand.

Very interesting, Alan.  Thanks.


James Carroll's Constantine's Sword:  The Church and the Jews is free on Kindle Unlimited.  (One month free trial for those who don't have Unlimited.)

Nowadays we are also allowing that Muslims can enter. Even others who truly follow their conscience.. It is really heart rending to read Paul's love for the Jews.

We are truly living in a blessed age where we  relate to others according to thier good will rather than doctrine. 

Now if we can learn how to stop all these wars.


Anyone who has wandered around in the wilderness of Church teaching re. Judaism will notice “developments.” In tomorrow’s reading we’ll hear Paul affirm: “They are Israelites; theirs the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises; theirs the patriarchs, and from them, according to the flesh, is the Messiah.” In the pre-1987 edition of the New American Bible we would have heard: “Theirs were the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the law-giving, the worship, and the promises; theirs were the patriarchs, and from them came the Messiah.” The shift away from the past tense makes a difference. Abrogationists prefer the past tense. 


In his book Jesus of Nazareth, Gerhard Lohfink devotes a chapter to “Jesus and the Torah.” Lohfink indicates that “what Jesus proclaims is nothing other than the center of the Torah -- an insight that is of the utmost importance for Christian-Jewish dialogue.” 

George D.

You wrote,

Simone Weil, while not formally baptized, considered herself Catholic and was attracted to Catholicism universality.

I had read about her attraction to Catholicism, but have never heard that she "considered herself Catholic."  Can I ask where you read that?


Christian supersessionism can still affirm that God has not annulled his everlasting covenant with the Jewish people, neither past nor present nor future.

Amen!  I have believed this for a number of years now and am exhilirated to find out that I'm not alone.  God does not revoke His covenants, nor will He ever.  That is why I cherish the Jewish people, especially the orthodox.  When I see photos them at the Wall, rocking slightly back and forth as they pray, I am instinctively drawn to them as my brothers and sisters.  For Heavens sake, Mary was a Jew, as was Christ's stepfather Joseph, as was John the Baptisit's mother, and Jesus taught in the Temple.  He called the Temple "His Father's House". 

I do not even pretend to understand the Divine sociology and logistics of all this, I only know in my heart that I am a Christian by birth, belief, and practice, and I am also a Jew in my heart.

Nostra Aetate 4 is a true innovation in Catholic teaching, as we see from the quote in the Baltimore Catechism above; the Council went back to Romans 9-11 and stressed the irrevocability of the First Covenant. John Paul II drew the conclusion that Christians, as grafted on to the chosen people, did not have a mission to Jews. Benedict XVI drew back from that somewhat, and it is heartening to see Francis advance more boldly along the conciliar line.

Here over Sunday breakfast in Cork I am chatting with a confrère about something that always bothers me when teaching Genesis: the extreme weirdness of the central theme in the saga, namely, the promise that the land where Abraham is merely an immigrant will one day belong to him entirely. In light of the later extermination of the Canaanite tribes, not to mention current events, how can we make sense  of this? Teaching Genesis as literature I tell the students it is a McGuffin, just a plot element to keep the story going, and I am unable to find anything theologically or religiously or spiritually edifying in it. Has anyone any thoughts on this?

Joseph O'Leary,

having just finished breakfast in Boston, allow me to offer a comment on your statement that "Christians, as grafted on to the chosen people, did not have a mission to Jews." I suspect that Saint Paul would have been surprised at the assertion.

Of course, you may be understanding "mission" in the invidious sense of "proselytizing." But is there anything in Vatican II (much less the New Testament) that negates the responsibility of Christians to witness to and proclaim that Jesus Christ is the Savior of all peoples?

I quoted above from Evangelii Gaudium: "the Church cannot refrain from proclaiming Jesus as Lord and Messiah" And you are, of course, well familiar with the earlier passage in Nostra Aetate, which declares: "without ceasing the Church preaches, and is bound to preach, Christ who is 'the way, the truth, and the life' (Jn 14:6), in whom men and women find the fulness of religious life and in whom God has reconciled all things to himself."

The joy of the Gospel, which is the joy of knowing and loving Jesus, who loved us and gave himself for us and for all, impels "mission." That mission may take different forms in different contexts, but the Good News of Jesus Christ is always at its heart.




I cannot find my text of Waiting for God at the moment but found some excerpts online. I really liked that book and have read and re-read it several times.


It is in one of her letters to her priest friend in “Waiting for God” Letter IV. She tells him that she owes him a tremendous debt although she was never baptized. She said that he neither brought her the Christian inspiration or brought her to Christ as it had already been done without the intervention of any human being. Granted, she stayed out of the Church for intellectual reasons (the anethema sit which she writes in another letter). However she had a desire but at the same time a vocation to be outside the church. As she writes, "to be born of the water and spirit, she must abstain from the visible water."


She had to sort out her vocation which she believed was to remain at the threshold of the Church while being tied in some way to it and she uses a Greek word to express it (that is in letter V of her intellectual vocation). It is in Greek and i don’t know what it means but she uses it as a term to express her spiritual existential condition. “The position may seem to be very unstably balanced, but faithfulness, of which I hope God will not refuse me the grace, makes it possible to remain thus indefinitely without moving (greek word)”



Fr. Imbelli wrote to JOL: Of course, you may be understanding "mission" in the invidious sense of "proselytizing." But is there anything in Vatican II (much less the New Testament) that negates the responsibility of Christians to witness to and proclaim that Jesus Christ is the Savior of all peoples?

That's what interested me in the distinction Benedict made in Book 2 of JON (as summarized by John Allen in his review I quoted above)


Benedict says that in the early church, the urgency of evangelization wasn’t based so much on the idea that every human being had to know Christ in order to be saved, but rather on a “grand conception of history,” according to which the Gospel had to reach all the nations in order for the world to fulfill its destiny.

Until God’s plan comes to fruition, Benedict says, the “particular task” of the disciples of Christ is to carry the faith to the Gentiles, not to the Jews.

That is what I meant when I said the current view is to thread a line between supercessionism and dual-covenant theology by introducing a time factor. It avoids denying that all salvation is through Christ. 

George D

The two Greek words at the end of the sentence you quoted are en hypomenē  which basically means to "stay behind" but also had the meaning of "bearing up under difficulty" as in 2 Tim 2:10.

 But is there anything in Vatican II (much less the New Testament) that negates the responsibility of Christians to witness to and proclaim that Jesus Christ is the Savior of all peoples?

Simple respect for those who suffered and died at Auschwitz should make it clear that the papal cross does not belong there.   

The first few pages of Carroll's book (part of the free sample) describe the manner in which this was imposed on "the abyss in which meaning itself died".


The collect for the optional memorial of St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, 9 August:


God of our Fathers,

who brought the martyr Saint Teresa Benedicta of the Cross

to know your crucified Son

and to imitate him even until death,

grant, through her intercession,

that the whole human race may acknowledge Christ as its Savior

and through him come to behold you for eternity. 

Edith Stein's path to martyrdom is convoluted. In 1942, she was a refugee in a convent in the Netherlands. That year, the Dutch bishops were told by the Nazis that if they abandoned their intention to denounce the deportation of Jews, the Nazis would spare Jewish converts. When the bishops refused, Edith Stein and hundreds of other converts were deported. The Congregation for the Causes of Saints concluded that because the Nazis rounded up Jewish converts in retaliation for the bishops' defiance, they were persecuting the Catholic Church, and hence, Edith Stein.

As the religion writer Kenneth Woodward described it in his book ''Making Saints,'' the Dutch bishops' act was a kind of ''class action'' that covered all converted Jews who died as a result of the bishops' resistance. The Rev. Simeon Tomas Fernandez, the 81-year-old Carmelite priest who has been the postulator, or chief church advocate, for Edith Stein's cause since 1962, does not disagree. ''They were all martyrs, of course, but nobody else was proclaimed a saint by the local population,'' he said in an interview.

The Vatican reasoning baffles some of Edith Stein's survivors. ''If the Nazis wanted to persecute the Catholic Church, why didn't they arrest the clergy who wrote the letter?'' said Susanne Batzdorff, 77, a niece of Edith Stein who fled the Nazis by emigrating to the United States in 1939.''Instead, they rounded up the Jewish converts.''

Mrs. Batzdorff, who said she planned to attend the canonization, explained that the family still views her as a Jewish martyr.



...given the context it is more likely meant to convey bearing up under difficulty

Interesting 2012 paper on Edith Stein's Conversion, revising some aspects of the standard recounting.

Quoting from that:

Like many other young people, Edith lost her faith in God when she was about 15. This is not to say she became an intellectually convinced atheist or sceptic. Edith never identified herself as an atheist. All she says in her autobiography (148) is that she gave up praying, deliberately and consciously, while she was staying in Hamburg in a completely secular environment, the home of her married sister Else Gordon. In much the same way, many young Catholics growing up in worldly surroundings lose interest in the faith and give up practising it, without actively rejecting it or declaring their conversion to atheism. 

[she was baptized as a Catholic 15 years later, at age 30]

Edith began to develop an informed understanding and appreciation of her Jewish heritage only after her conversion to Catholicism. 



In summary: Edith Stein’s conversion to the Catholic faith was the culmination of a prolonged and painful spiritual process that began in 1913 [she was 22] when she encountered Christians among her philosophical colleagues in Göttingen. The process of gradual conversion continued for eight years, as she struggled with deep philosophical and personal issues and observed with wondering admiration the unselfconscious witness of the Reinachs and other faithful [Lutheran] Christians. Edith received the gift of faith which she had desired for so long in the summer of 1921, after an experience of empathic communion with a kindred spirit, the great Teresa of Avila. 


Interesting that Sister Teresia Renata Posselt felt the need to plump up Edith's story, just as Mother Agnes Martin plumped up Therese's.  

I had read of "the Master's" bad treatment of Edith before, but I hadn't heard of her unrequited love for Hans Lipps.

Sad and depressing.  If only she had been less patriotic and had fled Germany when there was still time.

George D:

Thanks for your reply.

Like you, I really liked Waiting for God.  In fact, I had it in mind – had in mind my understanding of what she said there – when I asked you the question.  I’m not trying to split hairs or pick a fight; I’m just saying that my impression was that if someone had asked her, “Do you consider yourself Catholic?” she would  have said “No.”  She might well have added that she found, in Catholicism, much that attracted  her, that drew her, but that’s different – or so it seems to me.  My guess is that she would have said (using the first translation provided by Alan) “I’m staying behind.  I’m not entering.”  But maybe I’m mistaken.

Catholic and Jewish - Cardinal Lustiger

"Along with Cardinal Francis Arinze[11] and Bishop Jean-Baptiste Gourion of Jerusalem, Lustiger was one of only three prelates of his time who were converts to the Roman Catholic faith; he and Gourion were the only two who were born Jewish and still considered themselves 'Jewish' all their lives.[12][13] He said he was proud of his Jewish origins and described himself as a "fulfilled Jew," for which he was chastised by Christians and Jews alike. Former Chief Ashkenazi Rabbi of Israel Yisrael Meir Lau publicly denounced Lustiger. Lau accused Lustiger of betraying the Jewish people by converting to Catholicism.[14]Lustiger, who claimed that he was still a Jew, considered being "Jewish" as an ethnic designation and not exclusively a religious one. Lustiger's strong support for the State of Israel, which conflicts with the Vatican's officially neutral position, also won him Jewish support.

On becoming Archbishop of Paris, Lustiger said:

I was born Jewish and so I remain, even if that is unacceptable for many. For me, the vocation of Israel is bringing light to the goyim. That is my hope and I believe that Christianity is the means for achieving it.

The former chief rabbi of France, Rabbi René Samuel Sirat, says he personally witnessed Lustiger entering the synagogue to recite kaddish—the Jewish mourners' prayer—for his mother.[15]

Cardinal Lustiger gained recognition after negotiating in 1987 with representatives of the organized Jewish community (including Théo Klein, the former president of the CRIF)[16] the departure of the Carmelite nuns who built a convent inAuschwitz concentration camp (see Auschwitz cross).[2][6] He represented Pope John Paul II in January 2005 during the 60th-year commemoration of the liberation of Auschwitz camp by the Allies.[17] He was also in Birkenau along with the new Pope Benedict XVI in May 2006.[18]

That is from the Wikipedia article on +Lustiger

HI Gene


You might well be right. She alludes to a Catholic identity in that work and maybe I was reading too much into it or maybe not. An awful lot of circumlocution there but interesting at the same time.

John Hayes


Thank you for reminding us of the magnificent Cdl. Lustiger, who had a way of capturing our imginations as few wearers of the scarlet do.  His descripion of his mission sounds a lot like a much earlier compatriot of his, who always described himself as a Jew (and not a Chrostoan) and felt that his mission too was to the goyim. I think what you quoted from the cardinal gives me a better idea of what his ancient counterpart was really all about.


George D and Gene P,

Since I make my living playing with ancient languages both of you have really intigued me about what Simone Weil may have meant by en hypomenē, since you have split on the meaning each otping for one of the two meanings I suggested.  Her words: “The position may seem to be very unstably balanced, but faithfulness, of which I hope God will not refuse me the grace, makes it possible to remain thus indefinitely without moving  en hypomenē”.  As you have pointed out the meanings "by staying behind" and "by bearing [the situation] with difficulty" would both fit.  What might tip it is that whereas some have translated these words in her letter as "in patience", the Greek word is much stronger than that, as "patient endurance" captures.  So there has to be some measure of difficulty that she is referring to and I suspect it is her experience of anathema sit which holds her back from committing to Catholicism.  Now does this mean, then, that she is saying, in faith, she will remain stationary not going forward to Catholicism, or that by the grace of God she will patiently endure through this difficult moment by staying in the same place?  I guess what I am asking is whether both of you are correct.

John Hayes:

Thanks for what you wrote.

A thought about “staying in the same place:” isn’t that “place” a place outside the church – on the threshold, perhaps, but not inside it?  If that’s the case, there would only be one meaning, not two, right?

Gene Palumbo,  I think your question about "staying in the same place" is for Alan Mitchell. 

I think that John Paul II replaces a mission to Jews (something popular in some Protestant circles with Jewish-Christian dialogue.

Here are some quotesI: "The first dimension of this dialogue, namely the encounter between the people of God of the Old Covenant never revoked by God (cf. Rom 11:29) and the people of the New Covenant, is at the same time a dialogue within our Church, that is, between the first and the second part of its Bible’"(Acta Apostolicae Sedis 73 [1981]:80)


"We are all aware that, among the riches of this paragraph no. 4 of Nostra Aetate, three points are especially relevant. I would like to underline them here, before you, in this truly unique circumstance. The first is that the Church of Christ discovers her "bond" with Judaism by "searching into her own mystery" (cf. Nostra Aetate, ibid.) The Jewish religion is not "extrinsic" to us, but in a certain way is "intrinsic" to our own religion. With Judaism therefore we have a relationship which we do not have with any other religion. You are our dearly beloved brothers and, in a certain way, it could be said that you are our elder brothers."


"No one is unaware that the fundamental difference from the very beginning has been the attachment of us Catholics to the person and teaching of Jesus of Nazareth, a son of your People, from which were also born the Virgin Mary, the Apostles who were the "foundations and pillars of the Church" and the greater part of the first Christian community. But this attachment is located in the order of faith, that is to say in the free assent of the mind and heart guided by the Spirit, and it can never be the object of exterior pressure, in one sense or the other. This is the reason why we wish to deepen dialogue in loyalty and friendship, in respect for one another's intimate convictions, taking as a fundamental basis the elements of the Revelation which we have in common, as a "great spiritual patrimony" (cf. Nostra Aetate, 4)"



I have no issue with any of the quotes from Saint John Paul II which you have given -- indeed, I delight in your appeal to the authority of his magisterium!

However, I do not think they controvert anything I maintained in my comment above regarding the responsibility of the Church to proclaim and witness to all the Good News of Jesus Christ.

I have been re-reading the documents of Vatican II and I have found nothing but support in them for this universal mission of the Church. They firmly confess that "All people are called to this union with Christ, who is the light of the world: from him we come, through him we live, and towards him we direct our lives" (Lumen gentium, 3).

According to Cardinal Kasper, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, ‘the term mission, in its proper sense, refers to conversion from false gods and idols to the true and one God.’ In this particular sense ‘mission cannot be used in regard to the Jews’ (‘The Good Olive Tree.’ America, 17 September, 2001).

In November 2002, Kasper, then President of the Council of the Vatican Commission for Religious Relations with Jews, in a lecture at the Center for Christian-Jewish Learning in Boston College, argued that when one emphasizes continuity between Judaism and Christianity in terms of God’s unrevoked covenant with Israel and the new covenant in Christ, then there can be ‘no organized Catholic missionary activity towards Jews as there is for all other non-Christian religions' (‘Christians, Jews and the Thorny Question of Mission.’ Origins 32, 2004:458-66; p. 463). But account must also be taken of the differences between Jews and Christians and how each reads the Bible differently. Christians, if they are to be true to their faith, cannot draw back from their faith in Christ as Savior of all and the mandate from Jesus as the Christ to make disciples of all nations (Mt 28:19).


Tommaso Federici's 1977 paper "Mission and Witness of the Church," points out the "irreversible" nature in the change of understanding of the Church’s relationship to the Jewish people brought about by Vatican II. Christian witness must take into account "the permanent place of the Jewish people according to God’s plan". Federici concludes, on historical and demographic grounds, that included in the prohibition of proselytism of Jews are any sort of "organizations set up for the ‘conversion of Jews,’ since these have in the past and virtually inevitably in the future will lead to the psychological and spiritual impairment of the freedom of faith of the Jewish people. Missionary activities aimed at Jews which might have been theoretically justifiable are precluded today and in the future by reason of the centuries of collective mistreatment of Jews by Christians. Federici’s suggestion, repeated and reaffirmed time and again by John Paul II, is that the Church needs today to concentrate not what its mission might be "to" the Jews, but rather "with" the Jews: the joint proclamation of the One God of Israel to the world, of the moral center of human destiny revealed in the Ten Commandments, of the "saving warning" of remembrance of the Shoah, and of the ultimate necessity for both to prepare the way for the Malchut Shamaim (Kingdom of God) by working together for tikkun olam.

But, many Jews would say, though the Church has abandoned any formal attempts to convert Jews, and understands itself to be "with" and not "over against" the Jews, don’t Catholics still in their hearts long for their conversion? Might not that longing, frustrated, pop out again one day as it has so often over the centuries? This might be true of some individual Catholics (even a small minority of a billion people, of course, is "a lot"). But is it true of the "heart" of the Church as a whole? Well, to test that one needs to look at what we pray for.



In short the universal mission of the Church takes a very different form in regard to Judaism -- you do not have a saving mission to the already saved; we shoulld think of our mission with Jews rather than of a mission to Jews; our witness to Christ within that context becomes a dialogue within the family.


I would say that you are quickly descending the hierarchy of authorities: from John Paul to Kasper to Federici to Fischer to O'Leary!

I do not deny that "mission" takes different forms in different contexts (indeed, I've already affirmed this). I do take issue with your phrase "the already saved." Who would dare presume to say as much for self or others?

What I stress is the gift and the responsibility of Christians who have known Christ and the joy of saving friendship with him to share the pearl of great price with all.

According to Cardinal Kasper, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, ‘the term mission, in its proper sense, refers to conversion from false gods and idols to the true and one God.’ In this particular sense ‘mission cannot be used in regard to the Jews’ (‘The Good Olive Tree.’America, 17 September, 2001).

An article by Cardinal Dulles was referenced above in an earlier comment.  That article, which also appeared in America, is available here.  It directly addresses Kasper's statement quoted by Fr. O'Leary here.   f I may say so, I find Dulles' arguments persuasive. 



Gene Palumbo

Yes,  I wonder what Weil means by “unstably balanced” (sounds like an oxymoron) and “faithfulness.”  In a juridical sense she remains outside the Church, but theologically she seems to be strangely a part of it.  Maybe your suggestion of being on the threshold is what she means.  She wants the grace of faithfulness, but it is not clear what she wants to be faithful to.  She has to “stay behind” and yet she wants to endure the circumstances of that patiently — maybe indefinitely.  I should get the book and read all of the letters.


Weil's brother was a mathematician and she was envious of his talents. She may well be referring to a kind of Pythagorean balance of contraries but was quite aware that this calculus is unstable as she might be required to choose even though she interpreted herself (correctly!) as already chosen. It is Christ who calls and chooses. Weil was correct in that. In that sense, her priest friend never converted her as she writes, it was already done. She had to sort it out and she deserves, like anybody else, a free space to do it. It is not for us to put up artificial blocks for Jews who wish to embrace Jesus as the Christ. We are just witnesses to her process interrupted as it was by an untimely death.

Actually her situation is apt for this discussion in that who ultimately gets to choose their identity? Must it be discerned for the outside in or the inside out or both?  And what to do if there is a contradiction? Edith  Stein felt no contradiction between being Jewish and Catholic. Others did but she did not.

I have profited immensely from Weil and think she has something to teach the modern mind and restless, unmoored spirits of today!


Philip Cunningham, Mary Boys, SNJM, and John Pawlikowski responded to Cardinal Dulles' article in America.  Their response is here:

Benedict's solution, which I posted earlier, is based on Romans 11. He says that we have no way of knowing when the time of the gentiles will end and, until then, the “particular task” of the disciples of Christ is to carry the faith to the Gentiles, not to the Jews.

25 Lest you be wise in your own conceits, I want you to understand this mystery, brethren: a hardening has come upon part of Israel, until the full number of the Gentiles come in, 26 and so all Israel will be saved; as it is written, "The Deliverer will come from Zion, he will banish ungodliness from Jacob";27 "and this will be my covenant with them when I take away their sins." 28 As regards the gospel they are enemies of God, for your sake; but as regards election they are beloved for the sake of their forefathers. 29 For the gifts and the call of God are irrevocable

@ John Hayes...A belated thanks for the link yesterday (in your 12:45 pm post) to the Gibbs paper. I've had the opportunity to read the paper, and it offers several new insights, for me at least, to ES's conversion. I especially enjoyed the description of ES's head and brilliant mind combining "to do violence to the heart" as she initially resisted the inexorable pull to become a Catholic.    

A note to the English edition of Waiting on God which I have says that "in giving this collection of letters and essays the title of Waiting on God, the [French] publisher has sought to suggest a favourite thought of Simone Weil which she expressed in the Greek words en hypomone: waiting in patience.

In her first letter to Father Perrin she writes: "I love God, Christ, and the Catholic faith as much as it is possible for so miserably inadequate a creature to love them. I love the saints through their writing and what is told of their lives – apart from some whom it is impossible for me to love fully or to consider as saints. I love the six or seven Catholics of genuine spirituality whom chance has led me to meet in the course of my life.I love the Catholic liturgy, hymns, architecture, rites and ceremonies. But I have not the slightest love for the Church in the strict sense of the word, apart from its relation to all these things that I do love. I am capable of sympathizing with those who have this love, but I do not feel it. I am well aware that all the saints felt it. But then they were nearly all born and brought up in the Church. Anyhow, one cannot make oneself love. All that I can say is that if such a love constitutes a condition of spiritual progress, which I am unaware of, I desire that it may one day be granted to me."

There is much more that casts light on her attitude and discernment in this and the following letter to Father Perrin that elucidates her persuasion that "it seems to me that it is the will of God that I should not enter the Church at present."

However, apropos the long quote above, I would suggest that the Church's "relation to all these things" that she does love is constitutive of the Church "in the strict sense of the word."

Edith Stein and Simone Weil were born to Jewish parents, and both were brilliant women, but Edith seems more stable mentally than poor Simone.  I don't think the comparison is apt.

(Simone was not the first Weil to be drawn to Catholicism.  Among other descendants of Weils who converted were the Ratisbonne brothers, Alphonse and Theodore.  Alphonse was the visionary who saw the Lady of the Miraculous Medal and founded the Congregation of Notre Dame de Sion, with its ministry of converting Jews.)

I think the impulse to convert others should be turned inward.  Rend your hearts and not your garments.

Just found that many of Simone Weil's books (in French) are available for free download here:

There is a note on the page explaining that the copyright has expired in Canada but not necessarily in all countries. 

John Hayes: re: threading the needle: the area I in which Iive has many Jewish residents, and it is not unusual for a Jewish person to wish to marry a Catholic person. There have been persons of the Jewish faith who have gone through our parish RCIA and converted to Christianity.   We have no reason to think this was not their free choice.  My view is that Catholicism's stance toward Judaism, covenants and salvation needs to accommodate these freely chosen conversions.  Stepping back and taking a longer view, their experience perhaps is not much different in its essentials than the experience of many Jews who chose to convert to Christianity during New Testament times: the Good News was preached to them and they responded.  If it is God's plan, in fidelity to his covenant with Jews, to fulfill his promises to them in some future time (en masse?), I believe we need to be able to harmonize that view with that of individual Jews who are not waiting until some future time.  

Jim Pauwels:

I don't think the problem is that there are some Jews who voluntariy become Christians.  The issue in the first version of "Covenant and Mission" was the explicit notion of prosyletizing or tagreting Jews for conversion.  This is what the Jewish community reacted to so strongly, and why Cardinal Keeler had to intervene to clarify the issue.

You wrote:

Stepping back and taking a longer view, their experience perhaps is not much different in its essentials than the experience of many Jews who chose to convert to Christianity during New Testament times: the Good News was preached to them and they responded.

It is inaccurate to say that Jews converted to Christianity in NT times.  What we now call Christianity was a form of Judaism.  Jesus was a Jew as were his followers.  They formed a sect of Judaism alongside other sectarian Jewish groups like Pharisees, Essenes, Zealots, and Sadducees.  When Paul received his call on the road to Damascus (his language in Galatians is that of a prophetic call), he did not convert to Christianity.  He never calls himself a Christian, and when he self-identifies he does so as a Jew.  So after his Damascus experience, he moved from one form of Judaism, Pharisaism, to another form, Jesus Messianism.  It is even inaccurate to speak of Jewish Christians at this time because it confuses the issue.  The roots of supersessionism, anti-Judaism and anti-Semitism are in this confusion of language that presents first century Jews as Christians when they were not.  How much of the Law and ritual practice was to be observed varied from one location to another.  At Jerusalem, James, the brother of the Lord, was strict by insisting that Gentiles be circumcized and observe the Noahide laws.  Peter at Antioch, along with Paul and Barnabas, was less strict and admitted Gentiles to the commujity without the requirements of circumcision and the Law, until people from Jerusalem challenged them and Peter and Barnabas went back to the former practice. This is when Paul separated from them and Jerusalem, and when he launched his mission to the Gentiles without those requirements.  Why?  Because he believed they were already Jews having been included in the promise made to Abraham that in you all the families (in Paul's day "nations") of the earth will find blessing.  

Jim Pauwels, I agree. i wouldn't turn anyone away.

in JON - Part 2, Benedict writes

The restlessness with which Paul journeyed to the nations, so as to bring the message to all and, if possible, fulfill the mission within his own lifetime – this restlessness can only be explained if one is aware of the eschatological significance of his exclamation: ‘Necessity is laid upon me.  Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!’ (1 Cor. 9:16).  In this sense, the urgency of evangelization in the apostolic era was predicated not so much on the necessity for each individual to acquire knowledge of the Gospel in order to attain salvation, but rather on this grand conception of history: if the world was to arrive at its destiny, the Gospel had to be brought to all nations.”

While we do believe that all salvation comes through Christ, as opposed to some Protestant groups we don't believe that means that each person needs to acknowledge (or even know) that Christ is his/her Savior in order to be saved. Otherwise, righteous Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims or atheists couldn't be saved. Nor could Jews.

Doesn't mean that we shouldn't share our belief and joy In the Gospels with others, but we shouldn't tell them they are going to Hell if they don't agree with us. 

How can Catholics share Jesus with Jews? John Paul II said to the Biblical Commission on 11 April 1979 that the identity of Jesus ‘is determined on the basis of his bond with the people of Israel, with the dynasty of David and his descent from Abraham.’ So sharing Jesus with Jews is sharing what we already received from them. 

It was through immersion in the religious practices of Second Temple Judaism Jesus ‘became an authentic Son of Israel.’ Benedict XVI says that Jesus understands himself ‘as the Torah,’ as ‘the Torah in person,’ and as ‘God’s living Torah’ (Jesus of Nazareth, I, 2007, pp. 110, 111, 169). An abiding, ineradicable reference to Israel is knit into all we say about Jesus. Even the highest Christology cannot eliminate this. 

The incarnation of the eternal Word in the history of Jesus in his relation to Jews and Gentiles is to be recommended to Jews as a fine flowering of their own tradition. Cardinal Dulles reads Hebrews in a rather fundamentalistic way to present Jesus in terms of abolition of the old regime. But note that Hebrews places the paschal mystery in the context of the glorious imagination of the Tabernacle and Temple, as a fulfillment of the symbolism of these sacred places. What Jesus fulfills is necessary for the meaning of Jesus and remains valid even when he has fulfilled it. The Jesus of the synoptic gospels is clearly a Jew, drawing new and old riches from the treasury of Jewish tradition. This is the anchorage of faith, not just its accidental historical vesture but intrinsic to its essential texture.. 

Alan Mitchell,

Of course, Paul did not "convert to Christianity," he converted to Christ -- and that made all the difference as the reading from Philippians 3 for today's feast of St. Clare makes abundantly clear. And already in Ephesians, Colossians, Hebrews, and the Prologue of John the eschatological fulfillment that Jesus the Jew, the risen and exalted Messiah, inaugurated is patent and has ontological implications.

Finally, a word from Pope Francis to the youth of Korea:

I giovani sono portatori di speranza e di energie per il futuro; ma sono anche vittime della crisi morale e spirituale del nostro tempo. Per questo vorrei annunciare a loro e a tutti l’unico nome nel quale possiamo essere salvati: Gesù, il Signore.

Young people are bearers of hope and of energy for the future; but they are also victims of the moral and spiritual crisis of our time.

Thus I wish to announce to them and to all the one name by which we can be saved: Jesus, the Lord.

Thus I wish to announce to them and to all the one name by which we can be saved: Jesus, the Lord

i certainly agree. Do you see that as being in conflict with anything that has been said here?

Interesting discussion.

I don't see much difference between the Baltimore Catechism's assertions and the ones in the current CCC except in tone and emphasis.

Instead of saying that Jews (and Protestants) are outside of the true religion, the RCIA line tends to be that Jews and Protestant denominations are full of sincere and grace-filled individuals who pray to the same God that Catholics do, but that their teachings are "incomplete." There isn't much difference in the message is there? The current line is simply a nice way of avoiding saying that Jews and Protestants are flat out wrong in their beliefs while still asserting that they run the risk of falling into serious sin while outside the RCC. 

I suspect that that during periods of openness and evangelization, most religions seek language that emphasize similarities and reduce differences. (Perhaps the Church even selects candidates such as Edith Stein to further that effort, as has been suggested.) During periods when religious communities feel their identities might be threatened or their the purity of their faith watered down, I suspect that most religions fall back on language that emphasizes the other-ness of those outside the faith. 


Those who objected to the canonization of Stein and Kolbe thought the Church was seeking to Christianize the Shoah.

The 1998 article linked below puts it plainly.  The authors:

Abraham H. Foxman is National Director of the Anti-Defamation League and a Holocaust survivor. As a child in Nazi-occupied Lithuania, Mr. Foxman was saved by his Polish-Catholic nanny who had him baptized in a Vilna church.

Rabbi Leon Klenicki is Director of Interfaith Affairs and has been engaged in Catholic-Jewish dialogue for 25 years. Rabbi Klenicki works with the National Conference of Catholic Bishops and is co-liaison to the Vatican.


What about Rahner's "aninymous Christians"? 

Anonymous Christianity means that a person lives in the grace of God and attains salvation outside of explicitly constituted Christianity — Let us say, a Buddhist monk — who, because he follows his conscience, attains salvation and lives in the grace of God; of him I must say that he is an anonymous Christian; if not, I would have to presuppose that there is a genuine path to salvation that really attains that goal, but that simply has nothing to do with Jesus Christ. But I cannot do that. And so, if I hold if everyone depends upon Jesus Christ for salvation, and if at the same time I hold that many live in the world who have not expressly recognized Jesus Christ, then there remains in my opinion nothing else but to take up this postulate of an anonymous Christianity.

Rahner's anonymous Christians is too abstract. John Paul II is more concrete in stressing that it is precisely through their religious that God acts for the salvation of non-Christians.


Jean Raber, there is a huge difference between the Baltimore Catechism and the new departure of Vatican II (Nostra aetate 4 and a sheaf of subsequent Vatican documnets).

It is through their religions that God is at work to save non-Christians, not just through the inner voice of conscience or the inner action of grace. Dominus Iesus (CDF, 2000) stresses that this salvational operation is still mediated in some way by Christ and his Church -- though any would be content to say it is the work of the divine Logos who is incarnate in the Christ-event but is also at work throughout the cosmos and history.

correction "any" should be "many"

J. O'Leary writes: "An abiding, ineradicable reference to Israel is knit into all we say about Jesus. Even the highest Christology cannot eliminate this."

R. Imbelli says: "I agree fully. Is that not the point of insisting with one of the New Testament's earliest confessional formulas: 'Jesus is Lord'?" and with Hebrews that it is Jesus who is the great High Priest who has passed through the veil separating humanity from God, "by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are sanctified" (Heb 10:14).

As Joseph Ratzinger/Benedict XVI has forcefully insisted at least since Introduction to Christianity: "Jesus is the Christ; the Christ is Jesus."


Jean Raber, there is a huge difference between the Baltimore Catechism and the new departure of Vatican II (Nostra aetate 4 and a sheaf of subsequent Vatican documnets).

Fr. O'Leary: Doesn't the Church still want everybody to be Catholic, where their potential for maximum grace is highest? And they figure that the best way to get everyone in is by making the language friendlier. It strikes me that doctrine hasn't changed, just the PR tactics.

Maybe I'm just not that smart or subtle. Many here have said so openly. And I'm not a lifelong Catholic. So enlighten me.

Stepping back and taking a longer view, their experience perhaps is not much different in its essentials than the experience of many Jews who chose to convert to Christianity during New Testament times: the Good News was preached to them and they responded.

Alan Mitchell has already responded to this with respect to the problem of making a claim for conversion in “New Testament times” (Robert Imbelli’s rejoinder seems beside the point). I would also simply add that another source of difference is the not insignificant fact that a lot of water has gone under the bridge since the first century. Even if you want to claim that a Jew could become a Christian in that time, how could it mean the same thing as a Jew becoming a Christian now, after the last two millennia of Jewish history?

Doesn't the Church still want everybody to be Catholic,

I would say that Jesus wants us to be one - to be unified.  Whether that amounts to "everybody Catholic", I don't know.  Under the rubric "Catholic" there are something like 22 churches in communion with one another, and there is quite a bit of variety, in liturgy, tradition, culture, history, law - unity in the midst of a lot of differences.

Friendly language is part of the effort, and I wouldn't underestimate the importance of tone.  Tone of voice is as important or more important than the actual words spoken in communicating love or indifference or contempt.   Actions are part of the effort, too, which enompasses a lot of different things, from praying together to marrying one another to joint service to the poor to political coalitions to ecumenical conversations to apologizing.  


I would say that Jesus wants us to be one . . . .


I'm not exactly sure what it means to say that Jesus wants something. Does Jesus want Eli Wiesel to be baptized before he dies? 

In any case, what puzzles me is, if John P. Meier is correct to say, "The historical Jesus is the halakik Jesus," why did Jesus waste his breath debating the Law when it was not going to be binding on anyone after he died?

After dozens of times exercising my ministry of reading from the Tanakh at our liturgies, I continue to ask myself in what way do I present these passages to the assembly.  On the one hand, we hold right from apostolic times that these writings are fulfilled in Jesus.  And yet, on the other hand, we teach that it is heresy to cast them aside and we even hold in honor a larger canon of books than the Jews themselves.  The New Testament can be proclaimed as a commentary on the Tanakh, as has been said here and accepted by both Christian and Jewish scholars.  So I see my role, as well as a lifetime task, as one of coming to know the God revealed throughout these books - not just their fulfillment but also just who and what are being fulfilled in Jesus.  The first apostles took this for granted, being Jews themselves.  Lustiger and Stein certainly had an advantage there.  This is a more searching life work than is dreamt of in the magisterium's exclusivist pronouncements that interpret the "no other name" of Acts 4,12. 

The Roman Catholic Church today has no organized mission to Jews, and does not seem really to want Jews to become Roman Catholics. As with St Paul, the "conversion of the Jews" is apparently deferred to the end-time.

We must in any case rid ourselves of the traditional idea of a people punished, preserved as a living argument for Christian apologetic. It remains a chosen people, "the pure olive on which were grafted the branches of the wild olive which are the gentiles" (John Paul II, 6th March, 1982, alluding to Rom 11:17-24). We must remember how much the balance of relations between Jews and Christians over two thousand years has been negative. We must remind ourselves how the permanence of Israel is accompanied by a continuous spiritual fecundity, in the rabbinical period, in the Middle Ages and in modern times, taking its start from a patrimony which we long shared, so much so that "the faith and religious life of the Jewish people as they are professed and practised still today, can greatly help us to understand better certain aspects of the life of the Church" (John Paul II, March 6th, 1982).



David Nickol


In any case, what puzzles me is, if John P. Meier is correct to say, "The historical Jesus is the halakik Jesus," why did Jesus waste his breath debating the Law when it was not going to be binding on anyone after he died?

You pose a fascinating question.  Some might say that the human Jesus shared in the limits of humanity, which meant he could not know the free future (some would say even God does not know the free future because it has not happened yet, but that is another thread). From an exegetical rather than a theological point of view another possibility emerges.  

When NT authors present Jesus debating with other sectarian Jews: Pharisees, scribes, Sadducees are they representing Jesus' actual thought and words in these debates or are they using Jesus to represent their own views?  

One has to heed the counsel of the Pontifical Biblical Commission in 1964, when it issued the document, Sancta Mater Ecclesiae: On the Historical Truth of the Gospels.  (Note that in the title, the question of the historicity of the Gospels was described as "historical truth."  This formulation anticipated the understanding of Dei Verbum, which had yet to be promulgated when in #11: "...the books of Scripture must be acknowledged as teaching solidly, faithfully and without error that truth which God wanted put into sacred writings for the sake of salvation."  By this formulation the Second Vatican Council put to rest the question of the relationship of the historicity of Scripture to its inerrancy.  The inerrancy of Scripture does not reside on the level of its words, but on the deeper level of the truth it communicates about salvation.  In other words, Catholics do not read Scripture as literalists). 

Number 8 of Sancta Mater Ecclesiae states: “From the many things handed down they [the evangelists] selected some things, reduced others to a synthesis, (still) others they explicated as they kept in mind the situation of the churches.”  According to the PBC the Gospels were composed in three stages: 1) what may have come from Jesus himself; 2) what may have come from the apostolic generation; 3) what may have come from the evangelists.  What I have quoted above comes from stage 3.  So in relation to your question it is likely that many of the texts showing Jesus debating the Law with Pharisees, Sadducees or scribes come from level 3 reflecting the situation of the gospel communities in relation to these other groups.  In favor of that view, is the fact that the Pharisees did not come into prominence in Judaism until after the destruction of the Temple by the Romans in 70CE.  In his lifetime, Jesus had most likely very little contact with Pharisees.  So his debates as portrayed in the Gospels are most likely the product of dialogue of Gospel communities with their Jewish counterparts and do not actually reflect Jesus “besting” Jews on the question of their interpretation of the Law. 

It is important to recognize this historical probability because the erroneous views of such debates have contributed to supersessionist views that Jesus was a Christian putting Jews of his day in their place on question of their Law.  And so, he was offering a replacement for their Law.

Alan Mitchell

Thanks for a fascinating response.  It would seem to indicate, though, that John P. Meier is not correct that the historical Jesus was the halakik Jesus (depending, of course, on how one defines "historical Jesus").  


I would say that Jesus wants us to be one - to be unified.  Whether that amounts to "everybody Catholic", I don't know.

Wow, that's candor. Please don't take this as a snarky comment, because I don't mean it that way at all. It's just kind of shocking to me. 

Maybe you just mean you don't know, but you have faith that God wants everybody Catholic? If not, is there any point in converting to any particular denomination or even religion beyond finding a "worship style" that fits your personality? Or because it keeps your family mollified?

A friend of Dad's has a daughter-in-law, born Methodist, who converted to Judaism. Her parents accepted it, said they were all still praying to the same God. Her Jewish in-laws were very proud that she went through what was apparently a very rigorous and long conversion process. My guess is that most people here have family members who converted to Catholicism when they married and managed not to alienate the family they were born into by accentuating commonalities. Hell, I have to do that with my Unitarian mother, which is, believe me, often a stretch.

Would you say these blended families are one? United? If so, why not just heal the body of Christ by "worshiping in place," as it were? That's pretty much the Anglican line: Let all baptized Christians have communion, invite non-Christians to the altar for a blessing. 

E.L. Doctorow wrote a book (forget the title) in which an Episcopal priest converts to Judaism when he marries a Jew, and says he is a "better Christian as a Jew than he was as a Christian." 

I don't really have more to add to this conversation, but lots to think about.


^City of God

Noticed this this morning in a NYTimes article on the Church's expectation of growth in Asia as a result of Francis's trip to Korea:

While the Catholic Church has been flexible in embracing Koreans’ centuries-old Confucian-based rituals of worshiping ancestors, a widely cited survey by the Christian Ethics Movement of Korea last year found Koreans complaining about Protestant churches’ “exclusive attitude toward other faiths.” A leading Protestant preacher in recent years outraged people by declaring from the pulpit: “Buddhist monks are wasting their time. They should convert to Jesus."

Hi, Jean, I didn't mean to shock you, and didn't consider that my answer was particularly shocking.  I really did mean that I don't know.  :-).  I really have no idea how perfect unity can be achieved, nor what it will look like when it comes about.  For Anglicans, apparently we at least sort of know what it will look like, as Benedict has laid the groundwork, and apparently a few have now walked that path.  How it will look for followers of Joel Osteen, I'm not as certain.

But I do think there is tremendous spiritual benefit to striving for unity.  

The points of difference among Christian churches and denominations do matter.  I accept what the Catholic Church teaches about the Pope, and Mary, and the sacraments, and the contents of the Old Testament, and the other things that separate us.  Those are the areas in which ecumenical engagement and dialogue is necessary.  But we have a lot in common, too, and if it's "PR" to emphasize those things in common, then surely it's an error in the other direction - possibly a worse error - to emphasize the points of difference so severely  that we're left with an impression that only we're "in the club" and everyone else is outside the door gnashing their teeth. 

If I can make a more general comment about this thread, which has been thought-provoking for me: I sense that there are a couple of excesses and extremes between which, as John Hayes puts it, we are trying to thread a needle.  On the one hand, there are those things which appeared in the Baltimore Catechism, which I'd never seen before.  Those paragraphs really were shocking!    At least, they're shocking to a Catholic of my age, who was formed in the post-Vatican II church.  For folks whose formation was pre-Vatican II, that presumably is how they were formed, and they've subsequently had to work to re-form themselves.  Those Baltmore Catechism passages help me to understand one of the the extremes that we need to avoid, and to appreciate just how great Vatican II was on the relation of the Catholic Church with Jews.

The extreme at the other end of the spectrum, it seems to me, is to take the position, "It doesn't matter whether anyone is Catholic or not.  It doesn't really matter whether anyone is Christian or not.  The good Buddhist, the good Muslim, the good animist - they'll all be saved, too, through some mysterious working of Jesus through the church, the details of which are not fully understood by us."  I think there is spiritual peril in that position when it is accompanied by the unspoken assumption, "... and it seems to me that virtually every non-Christian is a good person, so it seems likely that virtually everyone is saved."  Over against this naively sunny and lackadaisical view of things, we must recall the Great Commission, and the church's belief that baptism is the only way we know of that assures entry into eternal beatitude.  

Abe, I believe, has touched on the sore point here: how can the church find the nerve, after two millenia in which Jews have been maltreated and persecuted, to proclaim its faith in Jesus to Jews?  Should the Jews be exempted from the Great Commission?  With Cardinal Dulles, I would say the answer is "no", but this discussion has given me plenty of food for thought.


After reading ALL of the above, I'm just grateful that God himself in really in charge of the question of salvation. We know two things for certain: God wants all his children save; Jesus died for all without exception. If we allow human beings, whether Catholic or otherwise, to figure out who is saved, it always seems that more often than not they are interested in who is excluded from heaven. Thank God that Jesus was inclusive in his mission and ministry and teaching.

I'm reminded of the following poem: "I dreamt death came the other night;  and heaven's gate opened wide;  an angel with halo bright ushered me inside. And there to my astonishment stood folks I'd judged and labeled; as quite unfit, of little worth and spiritually disabled. Indignant words rose to my lips, but never were set free. For all stood in silent shock...not one expect me!" 

With David Nickol and I suspect, everyone else, I'm grateful for Alan Mitchell's scholarly comments here.  The Pontifical Biblical Commission's document Sancta Mater Ecclesia to which he referred in his most recent comment is available here in a translation by Joseph Fitzmyer.


Agree, Jim.  Thanks, Alan.

Jim Pauwels, I've been around long enough to remember Fr. Leonard Feeney, S.J. (formerly of America Magazine and Boston College) preaching on Boston Common "Extra Ecclesiam Nulla Salus" which he interpreted literally as meaning that no one who was not a member of the Catholic Church could be saved. 

The Church does teach "Extra Ecclesiam Nulla Salus" but the question is what that means.

As a result of the Feeney controversy, the Holy Office (predecessor of the CDF), with the approval of Pius XII, issued "Suprema Haec Sacra" explaining that that it is an infallible teaching but it has to be interpreted as the Church teaches:

Now, amongst those things which the Church has always preached and will never cease to teach, there is also this infallible declaration which says that there is no salvation outside the Church.

This dogma, however, has to be understood in the sense attributed to it by the Church herself. The Saviour, in fact, entrusted explanation of those things contained in the deposit of faith, not to private judgement, but to the teaching of the ecclesiastical authority.

Now, in the first place, the Church teaches that in this matter there exists a very strict mandate from Jesus Christ, for He explicitly commanded his apostles to teach all nations to observe all things which He Himself had ordered (Matth XXVIII.19-20).

The least of these commandments is not that which orders us to be incorporated through baptism into Christ's Mystical Body, which is the Church, and to remain united with Him and with His Vicar, through whom, He Himself governs his Church in visible manner here below,

That is why no one will be saved if, knowing that the Church is of divine institution by Christ, he nevertheless refuses to submit to her or separates himself from the obedience of the Roman Pontiff, Christ's Vicar on earth.

Not only did our Saviour order all peoples to enter the Church, but He also decreed that it is the means of salvation without which no one can enter the eternal kingdom of glory.

In his infinite mercy, God willed that, since it was a matter of the means of salvation ordained for man's ultimate end, not by intrinsic necessity, but only by divine institution, its salutary effects could also be obtained in certain circumstances when these means are only objects of "desire" or of "hope". This point was clearly established at the Council of Trent, with regard to both the sacrament of baptism and of penance (Denziger, n. 797 and 807).

The same must be said of the Church, as a general means of salvation. That is why for a person to obtain his salvation, it is not always required that he be de facto incorporated into the Church as a member, but he must at least be united to the Church through desire or hope.

However, it is not always necessary that this hope be explicit as in the case of catechumens. When one is in a state of invincible ignorance, God accepts an implicit desire, thus called because it is implicit in the soul's good disposition, whereby it desires to conform its will to the will of God.

read the rest:

I take it that "knowing that the Church is of divine institution by Christ" means believing that, not simply knowing that that is what the Church teaches - and similarly, that "invincible ignorance" doesn't mean that you have never heard that claim but that you haven't been convinced by it. 

That is why no one will be saved if, knowing that the Church is of divine institution by Christ, he nevertheless refuses to submit to her or separates himself from the obedience of the Roman Pontiff, Christ's Vicar on earth.

Well. I was clearly better off as a Unitarian, with my good intentions, a hope of heaven, inchoate love of God and man, and an invincible ignorance of the Church. See ya, Catholics, but not in heaven. I'm on the Perdition Train for sure. I gotta go find that bottle of Gilbey's that's been locked up for 32 years, pop a pack of Winstons, and cancel my subscription to Commonweal.

Thanks to all for the wide-ranging conversation. The thread seems to have run its course.

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