Clarification of Church Doctrine Regarding the Jews

In a Vatican document entitled: “NOTES on the correct way to present the Jews and Judaism in preaching and catechesis in the Roman Catholic Church” I am confused about two seemingly contradictory statements.

  1. The Holy Father has stated this permanent reality of the Jewish people in a remarkable theological formula, in his allocution to the Jewish community of West Germany at Mainz, on November 17th, 1980: “the people of God of the Old Covenant, which has never been revoked”. (Emphasis added)

  2. “In virtue of her divine mission, the Church” which is to be “the all-embracing means of salvation” in which alone “the fulness of the means of salvation can be obtained” (Unit. Red. 3); “must of her nature proclaim Jesus Christ to the world” (cf. Guidelines and Suggestions, I). Indeed we believe that is is through him that we go to the Father (cf. Jn. 14:6) “and this is eternal life, that they know thee the only true God and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent” (Jn 17:33).
    Jesus affirms (ibid. 10:16) that “there shall be one flock and one shepherd”. Church and Judaism cannot then be seen as two parallel ways of salvation and the Church must witness to Christ as the Redeemer for all, “while maintaining the strictest respect for religious liberty in line with the teaching of the Second Vatican Council (Declaration Dignitatis Humanae)” (Guidelines and Suggestions, I). (emphasis added)

How can the Church simultaneously affirm that the Old Covenant with the Jewish people has never been revoked, and also say that salvation may not be obtained through Judaism? Does this mean only “full” salvation may not be attained, but some measure of it might? Or: No salvation is obtained by the Jews, and the Pope in #1 above meant something else entirely (in which case, what??).

I thank you in advance for a well-reasoned response.

Would it be helpful to read this entire page of the Catechism?

The Church and non-Christians

839 "Those who have not yet received the Gospel are related to the People of God in various ways."325

**The relationship of the Church with the Jewish People. **
When she delves into her own mystery, the Church, the People of God in the New Covenant, discovers her link with the Jewish People,326 "the first to hear the Word of God."327 The Jewish faith, unlike other non-Christian religions, is already a response to God’s revelation in the Old Covenant. To the Jews “belong the sonship, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises; to them belong the patriarchs, and of their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ”,328 "for the gifts and the call of God are irrevocable."329

326 Cf. NA 4.
327 Roman Missal, Good Friday 13:General Intercessions,VI.
328 Rom 9:4-5.
329 Rom 11:29.

God bless you in your inquiries, and in all things temporal and spiritual

My understanding is that the eternal covenant is specific to the Abrahamic covenant, and this would exclude the Davidic and Mosaic covenants. A careful look at what is promised to Abraham should show that the first doesn’t contradict the second or give you any particular reason to construct the choices that you did, as they seem to be predicated on the inclusion of the Mosaic covenant as an eternal one. Which, as far as I know, is not included by Catholics as eternal.

I am not a Catholic, but I think it’s something like that.

I am Catholic and my understanding is much the same as yours.

There just can’t be two valid covenants. The Old Covenant, as I understand it, technically refers to the Mosaic covenant which is certainly no longer in effect as it has been revoked by the New and everlasting covenant.

This is more or less what Saint Paul says in the Epistle to the Romans, ch. 9-11. He is careful to refer to the covenant with Abraham there, when he says that first a remnant, and then later “all Israel”, will be saved. The varying interpretations of ch. 11 hinge on how one interprets the latter clause.

Thanks for your response.

Abraham was promised a covenant through his son Isaac and all his seed after him (Genesis 17 v. 16-19). Here’s what Isaac promised his son, Jacob (Genesis 27:26, my translation):

כו וַיֹּאמֶר אֵלָיו, יִצְחָק אָבִיו: גְּשָׁה-נָּא וּשְׁקָה-לִּי, בְּנִי. כז וַיִּגַּשׁ, וַיִּשַּׁק-לוֹ, וַיָּרַח אֶת-רֵיחַ בְּגָדָיו, וַיְבָרְכֵהוּ; וַיֹּאמֶר, רְאֵה רֵיחַ בְּנִי, כְּרֵיחַ שָׂדֶה, אֲשֶׁר בֵּרְכוֹ יְהוָה. כח וְיִתֶּן-לְךָ, הָאֱלֹהִים, מִטַּל הַשָּׁמַיִם, וּמִשְׁמַנֵּי הָאָרֶץ–וְרֹב דָּגָן, וְתִירֹשׁ. כט יַעַבְדוּךָ עַמִּים, וישתחו (וְיִשְׁתַּחֲווּ) לְךָ לְאֻמִּים–הֱוֵה גְבִיר לְאַחֶיךָ, וְיִשְׁתַּחֲווּ לְךָ בְּנֵי אִמֶּךָ; אֹרְרֶיךָ אָרוּר, וּמְבָרְכֶיךָ בָּרוּךְ

  1. And Isaac his father said to him: Approach now, and kiss me, my son. 27. And he approached, and he kissed him, and [Isaac] smelled the scent of his clothes, and he blessed him, and he said, “See, the scent of my son is as the scent of the field which the Lord has blessed.” 28. And God should give you of the dew of heaven, and of the fats of the earth, an abundance of wheat and wine. 29. Peoples shall serve you, nations shall bow down to you – be a lord over your brothers, and the sons of your mother shall bow down to you; those who curse you are accursed, and those who bless you are blessed.

So if this covenant/blessing is still in effect, the Jews are a blessed people. In my mind, that implies eternal salvation. In general, the notion of an eternal covenant minus salvation is incomprehensible to me.

John Paul II seemed to disagree, at least when he was talking to Jews, as per my first post.

At one point I had done a lot of study on this subject but have since changed lap tops several times so I have bits and pieces of my references.

But, in support of the Old Covenan being revoked we have:
Hebrews 7:18: “On the one hand, a former commandment is annulled because of its weakness and uselessness…”;

Hebrews 10:9: “Then he says, ‘Behold, I come to do your will.’ He takes away the first [covenant] to establish the second [covenant]…”;

2 Corinthians 3:14: “For to this day when they [the Jews] read the Old Covenant, that same veil remains unlifted, because only through Christ is it taken away”;

Hebrews 8:7: “For if there had been nothing wrong with that first covenant, no place would have been sought for another”;

Colossians 2:14: “Having canceled the written code, with its decrees, that was against us and stood opposed to us; He took it away nailing it to the cross”;

Pope Pius XII, Mystici Corporis, para. 29: “…the New Testament took the place of the Old Law which had been abolished…but on the gibbet of His death Jesus made void the Law with its decrees fastened the handwriting of the Old Testament to the Cross”;
The Catechism of the Council of Trent: “…the people, aware of the abrogation of the Mosaic Law…”;

Council of Florence: “that the matter pertaining to the law of the Old Testament, of the Mosaic law…although they were suited to the divine worship at that time, after our Lord’s coming had been signified by them, ceased, and the sacraments of the New Testament began”;

Council of Trent: “but not even the Jews by the very letter of the law of Moses were able to be liberated or to rise therefrom”;

Cardinal Ratzinger: “Thus the Sinai [Mosaic] Covenant is indeed superseded” (Many Religions – One Covenant, p. 70).

St. John Chrysostom: “Yet surely Paul’s object everywhere is to annul this Law….And with much reason; for it was through a fear and a horror of this that the Jews obstinately opposed grace” (Homily on Romans, 6:12); “And so while no one annuls a man’s covenant, the covenant of God after four hundred and thirty years is annulled; for if not that covenant but another instead of it bestows what is promised, then is it set aside, which is most unreasonable” (Homily on Galatians, Ch 3);

St. Augustine: “Instead of the grace of the law which has passed away, we have received the grace of the gospel which is abiding; and instead of the shadows and types of the old dispensation, the truth has come by Jesus Christ. Jeremiah also prophesied thus in God’s name: ‘Behold, the days come, says the Lord, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah…’ Observe what the prophet says, not to Gentiles, who had not been partakers in any former covenant, but to the Jewish nation. He who has given them the law by Moses, promises in place of it the New Covenant of the gospel, that they might no longer live in the oldness of the letter, but in the newness of the spirit” (Letters, 74, 4);

Justin Martyr: Now, law placed against law has abrogated that which is before it, and a covenant which comes after in like manner has put an end to the previous one; and an eternal and final law – namely, Christ – has been given to us, and the covenant is trustworthy…Have you not read…by Jeremiah, concerning this same new covenant, He thus speaks: ‘Behold, the days come,’ says the Lord, ‘that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah…’” (Dialogue with Trypho, Ch 11).

The other issue is that, if I properly recall, there was no one in the Church before the 20th century who taught the dual covenant theology.

So it would seem. There are several wasy to explain this though.

It could be that Pope JP II was referring to the Abrahamic covenant and just didn’t use precise enough language. He was making a talk not writing a theological paper.

When this issue first came out there were many that accused the Pope of heresy and all kind of other horrible things. I simply believe that the language he used was not as precise as it could have been.


So, with all due respect, is this page on the Vatican website, and/or Pope John Paul’s statement, somehow misleading or deceptive? Or, is that what he personally believed, but has been rejected by other theologians (like Cardinal Ratzinger / Pope Benedict)? [update, I wrote the previous before reading your latest post. Let me think of a new response.]

I must confess to not understanding St. Augustine’s line of reasoning. He assumes that a new covenant, as mentioned by Jeremiah, by definition supercedes and replaces an old one. I find that totally not compelling. For example, all of the previous covenants that were mentioned here, like the Abrahamic, Mosaic, and Davidic, were cumulative. Abraham himself received multiple covenants.

In light of your reasonable explanation that Pope John Paul’s language was simply imprecise, I am still left with my previous unanswered question in the form of a statement:

So if this covenant/blessing is still in effect, the Jews are a blessed people. In my mind, that implies eternal salvation. In general, the notion of an eternal covenant minus salvation is incomprehensible to me.

I am under the impression that the document is deliberately confusing the issue, unless the Catholic Church has changed its mind from all the sources you quoted. Here’s another piece:

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 Rom 11:17-24).
(emphasis added)

Chosen for what? To be friendly neighbors? To be potential coverts? If so, how do we differ from any other non-Catholics?

Indeed, even the Catechism states:

The Old Testament is an indispensable part of Sacred Scripture. Its books are divinely inspired and retain a permanent value, for the Old Covenant has never been revoked.

However, as Pope Benedict XVI clarified:

The first consideration is that the ceremonies of the Mosaic Law were abrogated by the coming of Christ and that they can no longer be observed without sin after the promulgation of the Gospel. …] the precepts of the old Law …] as everybody knows have been revoked by the coming of Christ. (Ex Quo Primum)

Also Pope Pius XII, in Mystici Corporis, writes:

by the death of our Redeemer, the New Testament took the place of the Old Law which had been abolished; then the Law of Christ together with its mysteries, enactments, institutions, and sacred rites was ratified for the whole world in the blood of Jesus Christ. For, while our Divine Savior was preaching in a restricted area – He was not sent but to the sheep that were lost of the house of Israel -the Law and the Gospel were together in force; but on the gibbet of his death Jesus made void the Law with its decrees, fastened the handwriting of the Old Testament to the Cross, establishing the New Testament in His blood shed for the whole human race. “To such an extent, then,” says St. Leo the Great, speaking of the Cross of our Lord, "was there effected a transfer from the Law to the Gospel, from the Synagogue to the Church, from many sacrifices to one Victim, that, as our Lord expired, that mystical veil which shut off the innermost part of the temple and its sacred secret was rent violently from top to bottom.

Even further, we find the infallible declaration of the Council of Florence (1441):

The Holy Roman Church firmly believes, professes and teaches that the matter pertaining to the law of the Old Testament, the Mosaic law, which are divided into ceremonies, sacred rites, sacrifices, and sacraments… after our Lord’s coming… ceased, and the sacraments of the New Testament began

Notice, however, how the Church never contradicts herself in matters of faith.

  • We hear Pope John Paul II state that “the Old Covenant was never revoked” (and the statement is not just - as some exceedingly zealous Catholics affirmed - a random idea of his, but was also accepted by the theological commission that included that statement in the Catechism).

  • Yet this does not contradict previous teachings: the law ceased, not as in a revoking, but as in a transfer from Old to New, for the New fulfills the Old and it would be not only wrong but offensive to the Lord for those under the New Covenant to try to keep up with the Old Covenant (as if they did not have faith in the work of redemption of Christ, the Messiah).

  • This is why the Apostles, chosen and instructed by Christ, taught the Law had been abrogated (a teaching the Church holds till this very day and forever) all the while keeping in mind and not contradicting the teaching of Christ who said: “I did not come to abolish the Law or the Prophets, but to fulfill them” - for grace, the heart of the New Covenant, fulfills the Law in the most perfect way: through love.

The teacher of religious law replied, “Well said, Teacher. You have spoken the truth by saying that there is only one God and no other. To love him with all your heart, with all your understanding and with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself is more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.”

When Jesus saw that he had answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.”

What shall we say of our brethren in the Jewish faith who do not know Christ as we know Him, who have not been baptized in the New Covenant and try with good faith to obey God as the Law and the Prophets establish?

Certainly our most kind and merciful Lord would not revoke the first Covenant, nor would He abandon them making their obedience of the Law vain. For even the Apostles teach us that ultimately it is not the obedience of the Law that saves, but the faith in God that it shows (Romans 4:13), and without which everything, Old or New, would be reduced to rituals and uttering of words, like seeds full of life thrown on rocky soil.

Thus I see no contradiction in the Church, the “city on the hill that cannot be hidden”, inviting all nations, even and especially our Jewish brethren, to acknowledge Christ, the Anointed One, all the while reminding all men of good will that our God is the God of mercy and forgiveness, and that in a most mysterious way His salvation is truly universal, without negating - but, rather, reaffirming - that the Church of Christ and the Sacraments Christ gave Her are the ordinary means of attaining eternal life, to which we are all called, and to which some of us - the baptized - are bound.

Clearly, in this context, the Jewish people hold a “place of honor”, for while all men who do not know Christ or do not unite in His Church are shielded by some lesser or greater degree of invincible ignorance, they are also shielded by God’s very own words, which make us Christians bow our heads in respect even as we call all nations (the chosen nation included) to enter the New Covenant, for after all they are following what God mandated them to follow, and we can lovingly presume that if they knew, they would certainly follow Christ with equal love and zeal.

Well said, R_C. Thank you. Incidentally, if I may ask, do you happen to be a member of the clergy?

We have established that the eternal covenant is the one that originated with Abraham. And John said that “God could raise up children of Abraham from these stones.” At the Mass we recall “the sacrifice of Abraham, our father in faith”. Salvation is from the Jews, but it is only through Christ.

Acts 15 which loosened the burden for non-Jewish becoming Christians was just that, for non-Jews. I don’t see in Acts 15 a loosening of the “rules” for Jews, themselves, who have accepted Christ as their Saviour & joined the Church. I think for them Jesus didn’t come to abolish the Law, but to fulfill it? Aren’t they, Jewish members of the Church, still required to be circumsized & refrain from pork & shellfish? Acts 15 is just addressing the non-Jewish Christians. Is there another place in history where the Church lifted the requirements for Jewish Christians?

Revoked is not a good choice of word to explain what happened. tThe word replace would be closer to being the correct explanation.
The word of G*d can never be revoked, but the Law can and was replaced by Christ’s Divine Presence and Passion.

Better words still would be expanded, fulfilled, perfected, purified…

I am glad you found my modest post to be useful, despite the fact that I wrote it. No, I do not share in any degree of ordination, nor am I under religious vows.

I have very little knowledge of Orthodox Christianity, but I’ll tell you this. No Western version of Christianity, from what I am familiar with, expects any Jew who converts to keep any measure of the old law, which, incidentally, includes a lot more than just refraining from pork and shellfish. Especially the Protestants who don’t believe you need works at all for salvation. Historically, perhaps, you are right – the early church was not trying to lift the commandments from the Jews. But things changed, far as I can tell. In fact, as I think about it, it seems to fly in the face of the whole notion of suppresionist theology. But I don’t know which texts are used to support that doctrine.

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