6 March 1982 Pope John Paul II’s speech on Jewish-Catholic relations explores mystery of Church and Israel
On March 6, 1982, Pope John Paul II gave a speech regarding Jewish – Catholic relations in which he said:
Our Common spiritual inheritance is particularly significant at the level of our faith in a single God, one, good and merciful, who loves men and leads them to love Him, the master of history and of the destiny of mankind, who is our Father and who chose Israel, the cultivated olive-tree onto which has been grafted the wild-olive branch of the gentiles.
To study ‘relations with Judaism’, the Secretariat for Christian Unity convened a meeting in Rome in 1982, bringing together delegates from the bishops’ conferences of the whole world as well as representatives of the Orthodox churches, the Anglican communion, the World Lutheran Federation and the World Council of Churches.
This meeting provided John Paul II with an audience for his speech of March 6th 1982 (repeating what he had already said on March 12th 1979 to a gathering of representatives of Jewish organisations and communities): ‘Our two religious communities (i.e. Christianity, and Judaism) are linked at the level of their very identity itself’; Christianity is ‘a new branch on the common trunk’ a traditional expression, but one which it is important not, to use one-sidedly – it needs to be properly explained if it is not to be wrongly understood. The Pope did not explain the expression in any way, but went on to invite Christians to ‘gather with their Semitic brothers around the common heritage’, for ‘we have a considerable spiritual legacy in common’.
This thought was developed further in the important document put out in 1985 by theCommission for Religious Relations with the Jews entitled “Notes on the correct way to present the Jews and Judaism in preaching and catechesis in the Roman Catholic Church”:-
The permanence of Israel (while so many ancient peoples have disappeared without trace) is a historic fact and a sign to be interpreted within God’s design. 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 Romans 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). Catechesis should on the other hand help in understanding the meaning for the Jews of the extermination during the years 1939-1945, and its consequences.
On March 6th, 1982, Pope John Paul II told delegates of episcopal conferences and other experts, meeting in Rome to study relations between the Church and Judaism:
“‘you yourselves were concerned, during your sessions, with Catholic teaching and catechesis regarding Jews and Judaism’ We should aim, in this field, that Catholic teaching at its different levels, in catechesis to children and young people, presents Jews and Judaism, not only in an honest and objective manner, free from prejudices and without any offences, but also with full awareness of the heritage common” to Jews and Christians.
In this passage, so charged with meaning, the Holy Father plainly drew inspiration from the Council Declaration Nostra Aetate, 4, which says:
“All should take pains, then, lest in catechetical instruction and in the preaching of God’s Word they teach anything out of harmony with the truth of the Gospel and the spirit of Christ”; as also from these words: “Since the spiritual patrimony common to Christians and Jews is thus so great, this sacred Synod wishes to foster and recommend mutual understanding and respect”.
In the same way, the Guidelines and Suggestions for implementing the conciliar declaration Nostra Aetate (4) ends its chapter III, entitled “Teaching and education”, which lists a number of practical things to be done, with this recommendation:
“Information concerning these questions is important at all levels of Christian instruction and education. Among sources of information, special attention should be paid to the following:
– catechisms and religious textbooks;
– history books;
– the mass media (press, radio, cinema, television).
The effective use of these means presupposes the thorough formation of instructors and educators in training schools, seminaries and universities” (AAS 77, 1975, p. 73).
The rest of the guidelines, a document of some 5,000 words, is intended to serve this purpose.
Prayer: Thank you, Lord, for the way that many have come to explore further the mystery of the Church and Israel, and repudiate the “teaching of contempt” that allowed Christian anti-Judaism and anti-Semitism to be used to victimise, persecute and oppress the Jewish people. Thank you for the teaching on a new relationship between Roman Catholics and the Jewish people. Thank you also for the Roman Catholic -Messianic Jewish dialogue group, and its work to develop mutual understanding between Roman Catholics and Messianic Jews. Lord, in your mercy, help us as believers in you to develop true unity in the body of Messiah, through listening, learning, love and your Lordship. In your name we pray. Amen.
One commentator noted:
We have two new ideas, then: those of THE SAME GOD and of CLOSE COLLABORATION, two ideas which seem to derive consistently from the logic of the Council (at least, I suspect they do), though the Council text did not go as far as spelling them out clearly, and they, have had to wait for John Paul II to incorporate them into the Church’s new, official attitude, and this at the price of a terrible ambiguity.
In fact, the intellectual process making it possible to assert that Christians and Jews believe in the same God has led the Pope to the further step of claiming that Christians and Muslims, too, believe in the same God. The rationale here seems to be that (unlike the pagans of antiquity who had numerous gods, and modern atheists who have none at all), Christians Jews and Muslims share a common view of the Deity since they are all monotheists.
This raises Interesting points of nomenclature and semantics for the lexicographers, and seems to lead to the view that any sincere and humble prayer that does not contradict this idea of one common God, or which does not contradict it too crassly, even if not always directed to the right heavenly addressee, will be graciously accepted by the same One and Merciful Godhead. But this is not the sum of our faith; it is barely even its beginning. For us, Jesus Christ is God, and has revealed to us that God is a Trinity; this is the God of Christians, who is not the same as that worshipped either by Muslims or Jews.
- Pontifical Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews, Notes on the Correct Way to Present Jews and Judaism in Preaching and Teaching in the Roman Catholic Church (1985), VI, 25. Available at:http://www.bc.edu/research/cjl/meta-elements/texts/cjrelations/resources/documents/catholic/Vatican_Notes.htm
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