Getting Past Supersessionism

An Exchange on Catholic-Jewish Dialogue

"How do we portray the ur-conflict, the 'impossible relationship' between an old immovable object and a new irresistible force as they collided in antiquity? What shockwaves still reverberate from that Big Bang that was, for so long, an intra-Jewish religious schism, turning on the refusal of most Jews to adopt their neighbors’ view of the messiahship of Jesus?" These are questions posed by Steven Englund in the essay that leads our special four-part exchange on Catholic-Jewish dialogue. Jon D. Levenson, Donald Senior, and John Connelly respond to Englund as part of this wide-ranging discussion that considers the impact and influence of Nostra Aetate; considers historical anti-Semitism and anti-Judaism alongside contemporary anti-Zionism; questions the possibility of a framework for open-ended dialogue; and looks at how theological scholarship on Matthew continues to shape interpretations of supersessionsism. 

This special four-part exchange has been funded by a grant from the Henry Luce Foundation.

'What Our Church Has Inflicted on Judaism'

I recall an evening I once spent in the company of Cardinal Jean-Marie Lustiger, the late archbishop of Paris. A convert from Judaism (he was born Aaron Lustiger), the cardinal took his original...

Dual-Covenant Theology vs. Dual-Truth Theory

We should all feel a debt to Steven Englund for his profound, searching, and brutally honest reflection on the current state of the Catholic-Jewish dialogue. He is especially to be commended for...

Not Conversion, but Communion

Steven Englund’s essay on Catholic anti-Judaism is as passionate and eloquent as it is challenging. He writes with respect and honesty about a complex and painful subject, and as one who shares...

'Embers Continue to Smolder'

Steven Englund reminds us that no single event signals the end of a story. The Vatican II document Nostra Aetate seemed to conclude decades of struggle over a new Catholic position on non-Christian...
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For what it's worth, I found Berhard Lohfink's treatment of the issue of supersession in has "Jesus of Nazareth" quite instructive.

Reading this article reminded me of a conversation I had a dozen years ago at a Christmas party with the party's guest of honor, a Jewish man who had recently celebrated his 100th birthday.  We had worked in the same industry and I was eager to hear his stories of what it was like in the early days, so we spent some time together.  In the course of our discussion he asked if I was Catholic, and commented that his and my religions were really the same.  He asked if I had ever been to synagogue services, and I said I had attended enough bar- and bat-mitzvahs for my children's friends to have observed the similarities.

He said that the only difference between them was the claim of Christ's divinity, otherwise their beliefs were essentially the same.  That got me thinking, what was Christ's purpose, his mission in life, and could we, the church, have misconstrued it?  Was the claim of divinity so important?  Was his purpose giving everyone a road map to eternal life?  Maybe not?   Maybe his real purpose was to spread his and the Jews' Golden Rule.  Could the early Christians missed this message?  From the way Christianity has treated Jews over the millenia that appears to have been the case, religious leadership getting distracted by a divinity claim that, while believed to be true, deflected and disguised the essence of his message.

I think that the way going forward should be to de-emphasize the divinity doctrine and focus on the Golden Rule.  I think that that's what Christ would have wanted.

It seems that we continually forget that both forms of Judaism that followed upon the destruction of the Temple were forms of supersessionism:

http://cosmostheinlost.com/2013/06/12/supersessionism-two-for-the-price-...

To follow up on a point made by Steven Englund in “Getting Past Supersessionism” (February 21, 2014), I suggest the following starting point in Catholic-Jewish dialog.  If Jews past and present can be said to not accept Jesus’s claim to divinity, Catholics past and present can be said for our part to not accept the humanity and hard sayings of Jesus and so (like the rich young man) fail to follow him.  Christ became over time the all-seeing Pantocrator in the East and the all-knowing judge of Dies Irae in the West.  Our leaders reject the “Christology from below” approach to Jesus.  Our homilies are too often devoid of gospel messages.  Our liturgies too often judge rather than welcome the sinner. 

We might also explore fruitfully a parallel spiritual experience described in almost the same words in both traditions.  In what ways does the “spirit of God” work in today’s Judaism?  How is this experience similar to and different from the work of the “Holy Spirit” in the Christian churches?

To follow up on a point made by Steven Englund in “Getting Past Supersessionism” (February 21, 2014), I suggest the following starting point in Catholic-Jewish dialog.  If Jews past and present can be said to not accept Jesus’s claim to divinity, Catholics past and present can be said for our part to not accept the humanity and hard sayings of Jesus and so (like the rich young man) fail to follow him.  Christ became over time the all-seeing Pantocrator in the East and the all-knowing judge of Dies Irae in the West.  Our leaders reject the “Christology from below” approach to Jesus.  Our homilies are too often devoid of gospel messages.  Our liturgies too often judge rather than welcome the sinner. 

We might also explore fruitfully a parallel spiritual experience described in almost the same words in both traditions.  In what ways does the “spirit of God” work in today’s Judaism?  How is this experience similar to and different from the work of the “Holy Spirit” in the Christian churches?

I can hardly believe that it has now been a decade since I graduated from theology school in which I wrote a thesis on the Post-Vatican II Reception of Nostra Aetate focusing on DABRU EMET, (a Jewish Response to Nostra Aetate), CHRISTIANITY IN JEWISH TERMS (the book it then set in motion), and Jon D. Levenson's critique of DABRU EMET.

Much of the dialogue, insights, and neuralgic issues du jour are there as well. But some that still remain pertinent to me are the following:

1) Assymetry: When considering inter-religious relationship between Jews and Christians, it is important to note that depending on circumstances, the two are almost never on equal footing to begin with and thus any notions of parity, talks of coeval, or dual covenant, etc. must take this assymtery into account. Generally speaking, Christianity inhabits an overwhelming majority and sphere of influence over European/Western civiliation and cultural development.

My general take away a decade ago was the Third Epoch Judaism historically had roots to share with the origins of Christianity "back then" and also shared in the current hermeneutical practice of conemptorary religious life of experiencing God's presence now.

2) Secularity: that both Jews and Christians (as well as other people of faith) shared a view of living in a world where God is present and in relationship with humanity, and yet much of the world also was living without this view either by choice, denial, or accomodation. Thus, as a matter of religious identity, we had some share in how to speak, exist, witness faith in such a secular world.

3) Although this was not sufficiently addressed in DABRU EMET, CHRISTIANITY IN JEWISH TERMS or by Jon D. Levenson's critique (except perhaps negatively), the rise of inter-faith marriages, especially in cases where one or both of the spouses continue to remain faithful Jews or Christians (or in my case Catholic) is something worth bringing into the realm of (often more academically rigorous, or theologically dense) inter-religious dialogue.

My degree placed more emphasis on "pastoral reality" and its applications. As a person who ministers in a Catholic parish setting and works with adults through the RCIA, I no longer find it suprising that growing parishes are made up of anywhere from 1/3 to 1/2 of "mixed-marriages." Among those marriages are a number of Jewish-Christian ones. While I agree with SVATO SCHUTZNER'S comment on FEB 18 under EMEBERS CONTINUE TO SMOLDER, that many such believers can be a curious admixture of actual catholic teaching and more secular, pop-culture, cyber nonsense (i.e. Jesus married Mary Magdalen, Catholics can now believe in evolution) where there is much conflation and ignorance, I can nevertheless attest that where this is true, vibrant faith, and where that is alive in an inter-religious context, there is still much to celebrate about a God who has chosen to pitch a tent amongst us.

I have a daughter preparing to sign the book of the Elect. But before she gets too far into Holy Week, she will sit down to Pesach with my wife and her family. I do not know if I envy her her place in history and her relationship to God amidst the road that Jews and Christians still have to take. But I also know that we did not arrive here on our own, but by listening to God's call and remaining faithful to God in our lives.

Edward W. Duffy, you recommend as a way forward: " I think that the way going forward should be to de-emphasize the divinity doctrine and focus on the Golden Rule.  I think that that's what Christ would have wanted." I have no doubt about the sincerety of your suggestion. However, my response to it would be the same as Flannery O'Connor's to a similar suggestion to ignore the divinity of Christ, "well, then, the hell with it (Christianity)!." Christ's message has its power because He claimed to be and was God. In our interaction with Jews, which I am now very involved with through InterFaith communities, it is a practical consideration to emphaisize "love thy neighbor as yourself" on the level of serivng our communiy; but you can do that, and not abandon belief or proclamation of Jesus as God, which is the essence of Chrisitanity.

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