What Does Dominus Iesus Say about Judaism? Actually, Nothing

By J, Eugene | Shofar, Winter 2004 | Go to article overview

What Does Dominus Iesus Say about Judaism? Actually, Nothing


J, Eugene, Shofar


Many scholars commenting on Dominus Iesus have assumed that Judaism, from the perspective of the Catholic Church, is seen simply as one among the many "non-Christian religions," which Dominus Iesus deems to be "gravely deficient." But Judaism, as a response to divine revelation, is theologically for the Church in a category all of its own. For Judaism represents the faith of Abraham in the One God of Israel, and the Jewish People, no less than Christians, have been and are called by God to be the "People of God." This very serious, biblically based viewpoint has emerged since the Second Vatican Council in numerous documents of the magisterium, for example in the recent report of the Pontifical Biblical Commission (PBC), which appeared long after Dominus Iesus. The fact that Dominus Iesus does not comment on Judaism, one way or the other, cannot be taken to mean that its framers meant to slight it. The work on the development of a theology of Judaism is not affected one way or the other by Dominus Iesus.

At the core of the responses of many scholars to Dominus Iesus (DI) is an a priori assumption that the document addresses itself to the teaching of the Catholic Church on Jews and Judaism, as well as the Church's ecumenical and interreligious relations. Certainly, this is on first blush a reasonable assumption, and if one accepts it the rest of their critiques of what they say DI says about Judaism follows logically. But is it a correct assumption?

The assumption I contest is the belief that DI intends in some way to comment on the Church's attitude, doctrinal and theological, toward Jews and Judaism as it has developed since the Second Vatican Council. The fact, however, is that DI has nothing whatever to say of doctrinal or theological relevance to the discussion of how the Catholic Church should understand God's relationship with the Jewish People or, therefore, the Church's relationship with the Jewish People.

Let us look at the structure of DI to see what I mean by this. DI is quite unabashedly a disciplinary text. The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has some concerns about various contemporary theological developments that it wishes, quite frankly, to curtail or, put more positively, to channel back into more productive concerns by warning of pitfalls that it sees if these current theological trends continue. Lying at its heart, after it considers some specifically ecumenical issues, is a crucial distinction, that between "faith" (which it considers to be a response to divine revelation) and "belief" (i.e., the insights and wisdom attainable on a human level which it discerns in non-Christian religions). These religions, while admirable and well worthy of study and dialogue, cannot be called "faiths" because, unlike Christian faith, they are not a response to divine revelation as we have it in the Sacred Scriptures.

Now the key question on which everything else depends with regard to Judaism is where the authors of DI would place Judaism. Is it a "belief," in which case strictures such as those criticized by many serious scholars apply (e.g. "gravely deficient")? Or is it in its own fight a "faith," in the terminology of DI, i.e., a response to divine revelation? Meaningful scholars seem simply to assume that Judaism, being clearly "non-Christian," would be put by the Congregation for Doctrine into the overall generic category of "other religions." Again, on the surface, this appears to be a quite reasonable assumption. But it is wrong. DI, rather, if it had asked the question (which it doesn't, actually), would have had to put Judaism, i.e., the religion of the Jewish People, into the category of faith. Put this way, the answer is clear and unequivocal. The Catechism of the Catholic Church spells this out explicitly:

When she delves into her own mystery, the Church, the People of God in the New Covenant, discovers her link with the Jewish People (cf. Nostra Aetate no. 4), the first to hear the Word of God (Missale Romanum, 13). …

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