I recently read in a document by the Synod of Bishops something I’m not sure (sorry for the pun) kosher Catholic belief:
Christ and the Jews are Sons of Abraham, grounded in the same Covenant, because God, who is always faithful to his promises, has not revoked the first covenant (cf. Rm 9-11). Pope John Paul II maintains: “This people was gathered together and led by God, the Creator of heaven and earth. Thus, its existence is not a mere fact of nature or culture, in the sense that through culture man displays the resources of his own nature. It is a supernatural fact. This people perseveres in spite of everything, because they are the people of the Covenant, and despite human infidelities, the Lord is faithful to his Covenant.”[RIGHT]Historia Salutis 29[/RIGHT]
Now, on a reading of Romans 9-11, I see that God regards the Jews in a special way because of their ancestry (cf. Rom 9:4-5, 11:28-29). But Paul also says that “they did not pursue [righteousness] through faith, but as if it were based on works. They have stumbled over the stumbling stone” of Christ (Rom 9:32). Moreover, he prays to God “that they may be saved” because while “they have a zeal for God …] it is not enlightened” (Rom 10:1-2).
But then Paul writes “has God rejected his people? By no means!” (Rom 11:1) Paul clarifies this by identifying himself as an Israelite, and says that those Israelites who have believed in Jesus are a “a remnant, chosen by grace …] no longer on the basis of works” (Rom 11:5-6). Those who were “elect obtained it, but the rest were hardened” (Rom 11:7). They have not “stumbled so far as to fall” (Rom 11:11), but so that the Gentiles would hear and receive salvation so as to make Israel jealous. Indeed, Paul hopes to “make [his] fellow Jews jealous, and thus save some of them”, for “what will their acceptance mean but life from the dead?” (Rom 11:14-15) He uses the analogy of an olive tree, and clearly says that some branches were broken off and others were grafted in (cf. Rom 11:17-24), and he makes it clear that “even the others, if they do not persist in their unbelief, will be grafted in, for God has the power to graft them in again” (Rom 11:23).
He concludes the matter by saying that “a hardening has come upon part of Israel, until the full number of Gentiles come in, and so all Israel will be saved” (Rom 11:25-26), a saying which confuses me somewhat, because he reiterates that, “as regards the gospel they are enemies of God”, but “as regards election they are beloved for the sake of their forefathers” (Rom 11:28).
What I get out of this is that God respects Israel for its heritage – it’s His heritage! – but that some of the Jews are stubborn (as was prophesied) and refuse to acknowledge the New Covenant in Jesus Christ: as such, they are “enemies of God” and are broken off from the olive tree which represents salvation. Israel’s heritage will not save those who deny Christ. At least, that’s how I read it. That’s why Paul is praying for them to be saved, and trying to make them jealous of the Gentiles, and hoping that they do not persist in their unbelief – not unbelief in God and the Old Covenant of the Law, but unbelief in God’s New Covenant of Grace.
So my question is, does God remain faithful to the Old Covenant, or has it been revoked? From what I’ve heard, modern Judaism isn’t the same as pre-Christian Judaism, because, among other things, they have no Temple; I’ve heard that Judaism became reactionary to the Christian movement and changed.
What’s confusing matters further is that I’ve found Pope Eugene IV’s Bull from the time of the Ecumenical Council of Florence, in 1442, which says:
[The Catholic Church] firmly believes, professes and teaches that the legal prescriptions of the old Testament or the Mosaic law, which are divided into ceremonies, holy sacrifices and sacraments, because they were instituted to signify something in the future, although they were adequate for the divine cult of that age, once our lord Jesus Christ who was signified by them had come, came to an end and the sacraments of the new Testament had their beginning. Whoever, after the passion, places his hope in the legal prescriptions and submits himself to them as necessary for salvation and as if faith in Christ without them could not save, sins mortally. It does not deny that from Christ’s passion until the promulgation of the gospel they could have been retained, provided they were in no way believed to be necessary for salvation. But it asserts that after the promulgation of the gospel they cannot be observed without loss of eternal salvation. Therefore it denounces all who after that time observe circumcision, the sabbath and other legal prescriptions as strangers to the faith of Christ and unable to share in eternal salvation, unless they recoil at some time from these errors. Therefore it strictly orders all who glory in the name of Christian, not to practise circumcision either before or after baptism, since whether or not they place their hope in it, it cannot possibly be observed without loss of eternal salvation.[RIGHT]Council of Florence, Session 11, “Bull of union with the Copts”, 4 February 1442[/RIGHT]
What also strikes me as bizarre is that it condemns those who are circumcised even before their baptism (like many male infants are), “whether or not they place their hope in it”, which seems to imply that it is an unretractable sin, a stain that even baptism cannot wash away, since “it cannot possibly be observed without loss of eternal salvation”. If that’s the case, I might as well give up my Catholic faith, since I was circumcised at birth.
I’d appreciate any shedding of light on this matter, as it’s quite perplexing to me. It seems to me that, since the first spreading of the gospel was to Jews, it was done for a reason, that they might be saved, and therefore Jews need the gospel (that is, they need to believe in Jesus Christ) to be saved.