Academic journal article Theological Studies

Revisiting Vatican II's Theology of the People of God after Forty-Five Years of Catholic-Jewish Dialogue

Academic journal article Theological Studies

Revisiting Vatican II's Theology of the People of God after Forty-Five Years of Catholic-Jewish Dialogue

Article excerpt

In the days to come, the mountain of the Lord's house shall be established as the highest mountain and raised above the hills. All nations shall stream toward it; many peoples shall come and say: "Come," let us climb the Lord's mountain, to the house of the God of Jacob, that he may instruct us in his way, and we may walk in his paths" (Isa 2:2-3, NAB).

ISAIAH'S PROPHECY OF A DAY when all people of the earth shall worship the Lord and dwell in peace has inspired the eschatologies of both Jews and Christians. Within Christian eschatological visions, the place granted to Jews has varied. In the second century, Justin Martyr cited Isaiah's words in the context of his Dialogue with Trypho, in which he took the position that the old covenant is abrogated by the advent of the new law of Jesus Christ and that Christians are the true people Israel. (1) Nearly two millennia later, the Second Vatican Council proclaimed Isaiah's words of peace to a world shadowed by the threat of nuclear war (2) and affirmed that the Jews remain very dear to God, who does not repent of gifts bestowed (Rom 11:28-20). (3) The Dogmatic Constitution on the Church (Lumen gentium) described biblical Israel as a people chosen to prepare and prefigure the new and perfect covenant given through the Word of God made flesh in Jesus Christ, who called together a new people of God (no. 9). According to Lumen gentium, the Jews do not belong to this people but are ordained to it (ordinanmr ad) (no. 16).

In this article, I first offer a historical perspective on Vatican II's approach to Catholic-Jewish relations by considering the origins of both Nostra aetate's statement on the Jewish people and Lumen gentium's theology of the people of God. Particular attention is given to the contribution of Yves Congar, a leading conciliar peritus who had great expertise in ecclesiology but limited experience with Judaism. The second part of the article discusses the postconciliar development of the Catholic Church's first sustained dialogue with postbiblical rabbinic Judaism. Fruits of this dialogue include the affirmation that Jews and Christians share in the covenantal life of the God of Israel, remorse for the sins of Christians against the Jewish people, appreciation for the ongoing spiritual vitality of rabbinic Judaism, and a reconsideration of dichotomous theologies of Christian-Jewish relations. In light of these developments, the article supplements Lumen gentium's typological theology of the relation between biblical Israel and the Christian church with an eschatological theology of Jews and Christians as a broken people who nonetheless remain covenant partners in pilgrimage to the mountain of the Lord.


When Archbishop Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli served as the apostolic delegate to Turkey and Greece from 1935-1944, he helped Jews obtain visas for Palestine to spare them deportation to Nazi concentration camps. (4) In 1959, as the newly elected Pope John XXIII, he excised the term perfidis from the Solemn Intercession of the Good Friday liturgy that had exhorted, "Oremus et pro perfidis Judaeis." (5) Nonetheless, when John XXIII convened Vatican II, the relation of the Catholic Church and the Jewish people was not part of the original agenda. In the 15 volumes of conciliar vota et desideria solicited from bishops, superiors general, Catholic universities, Bible institutes, and Roman curial congregations, one finds scant references to Catholic-Jewish relations. Nineteen Jesuits at the Pontifical Biblical Institute did request that the council take up the topic of the Jewish people, noting that they should never be alleged to have been rejected by God. (6) Another response, markedly different in spirit, urged the council "to condemn international freemasonry, controlled by the Jews." (7)

The declaration Nostra aerate would not have become part of the conciliar corpus had it not been for Jules Isaac, a French Jewish scholar and principal founder, together with Edmond Fleg of Amiti6 Jud6o-Chrdtienne de France, a federation of associations that fostered mutual understanding and respect between Christians and Jews. …

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