The Catholic Church and the Jews; Introduction to This Special Section of Shofar
M, Samuel, Shofar
At a Western States Jewish Studies Association Conference in Tempe, Arizona a small group of Jewish and Christian scholars came together to discuss the implications of the release of the Vatican's Statement, Dominus Iesus (DI), in the year 2000. These papers continue to have significance even a few years after the original discussion. To these original papers we have added the response of the distinguished Catholic scholar, Dr. Eugene J. Fisher, Associate Director, Secretariat for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs, U.S. Conference of Bishops. The first paper, written by Samuel Edelman, Director of Modern Jewish and Israel Studies at the California State University, Chico, was meant to offer the context of Christian/Catholic discussion over the last 60 plus years. This paper, "Supersessionism Rears Its Ugly Head," categorizes the Jewish-Catholic dialogue as one centered around ambiguity and ambivalence, pitting right-wing Catholic against left-wing Catholic in a behind-the-scene conflict in spite of the current Pope's public and positive embrace of Jews and Judaism in ways few in the Catholic Church have done since Pope John XXIII.
Steven L. Jacobs, Aaron Aronov Chair of Judaic Studies at the University of Alabama, wrote the second paper. "Dominus Iesus: Why This? Why Now?" lays out in a logical and precise way the ironic twists and turns of Dominus Iesus. Jacobs argues persuasively that, "Given the advancing age and increasing physical infirmities of the incumbent Pope, John Paul II; the power of the conservative wing of the Roman Catholic Church in the person of Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger...Dominus Iesus is an attempt by those in positions of power within the Church to reverse the seemingly more liberal progress made by the incumbent prior to the election of his successor, to undo, as it were, the perceived falsely relativistic position of the Church (i.e., "one among many") and restore it to its pre-Vatican II/Nostre Aetate understanding of "No salvation outside the Church."
The third paper, "Church Faith and Religious Belief: A Reading of Dominus Iesus," by Peter Haas, Abba Hillel Silver Professor of Jewish Studies and Director of the Samuel Rosenthal Center for Judaic Studies at Case Western University, posits the argument that the authors of Dominus Iesus were using the cloak of the language of pluralism to attack pluralism. The Church having set into place 40 years of dialogue now seems bent on using "language that marks a clear retreat back to pre-Vatican II exclusivity." Using a close textual analysis of the text of Dominus Iesus, Haas concludes by saying: "What is likely going on here is just the surface manifestation of a much deeper and profound struggle over the future of the Church in the twenty-first century."
The fourth paper, "Protestant Impressions of Catholic Statements," by the distinguished Protestant scholar, James F. Moore of Valparaiso University, provides us with a Derrida-like post-modern analysis of not only the Catholic text but also of the avid interest of Jewish Studies scholars in this Catholic text. His "claim is that the document is intended to restrict quite directly the scope of what these leading teachers can officially teach as Catholic theology." Yet, having said this, Moore begins to plumb the depths of both unintended and possibly intended consequences of Dominus Iesus. He concludes with singularly brilliant insight that "If the aim of such a theology is both to eliminate certain views about Jews and others from Catholic teaching and thus to reinstate a particular memory about Christianity, then this would mean that the impact of Jewish studies, that is, the views of Jews about various topics, would be dramatically reduced in those places that do Christian studies, that is, among those who would teach about the themes that Dominus Jesus addresses. Above all, we lose the long-standing effort to reaffirm the Jewish roots of Christianity at least in part, and we lose sight of the important gains we have made in thinking about the Jewish Jesus, like the efforts I have made to re-think Christianity by seeing Jesus as preeminently a Jewish teacher teaching from within the Jewish tradition. …