June 19, 2015

That All May Be One / Fr. Rick Ginther

Dialogue helps Christians and Jews learn from each other

I had intended to continue the series on Christians in dialogue this month. Circumstances have led me in another direction.

In The Criterion’s May 22 issue was an article about the dialogue Rabbi Aaron Spiegel and I shared concerning the movie The Jewish Cardinal. This was very timely, given my column last month which dealt, in part, with perceived Christian scriptural and cultural misconceptions of Judaism.

“Nostra Aetate,” a document from the Second Vatican Council approved in 1965, opened up 50 years of dialogue among Christians and Jews. One might ask why not more has been said or written about this dialogic relationship. One might also ask where we are today in this relationship.

No other non-Christian faith shares so long a history or ancestry as Judaism and Christianity. We are “Judeo-Christians,” emerging from being a Jewish sect in the first century. St. Paul and others brought Christianity to the gentiles from their original Jewish roots. His writings, and subsequently the Gospels, attest that frictions developed between the rabbis (Pharisees) and the Christian community. This led to the eventual expulsion from the synagogues of the followers of Christ, and harsh words by early Christian writers.

Common heritage became a fractured relationship. The Jewish rabbis, facing an upsurge of Greek-speaking Christians, defined the Scriptures (i.e., the Old Testament) to be only of original Hebrew texts. The Christians, however, continued to use the Septuagint version which included both Hebrew and Greek original texts.

Worship rooted in Jewish customs of Temple sacrifice and synagogue prayer developed into a different rite. It was centered upon the passion and death of Jesus, proclaiming belief in him as the Son of God and Messiah. Jews maintained the oneness of God, not three persons in one God, which Christians profess in believing in the Trinity. They remained awaiting the Messiah.

It was said by some Christian preachers, that the Covenant of Moses had been “superseded.” Such “supercessionism” stated that the Jewish covenant was abolished, replaced by that of Christ. Yet the Jews remained adamant that their covenant was still real. St. Paul even

attested: “The gifts and the call of God are irrevocable” (Rom 10:25-29)

Dialogue is impossible when the differences between potential partners are so basic and so glaring. Generally speaking, open hostility on both sides remained the norm. Only in a few places or for relatively brief periods were there lulls of quiet tolerance.

“Nostra Aetate” encouraged the exploration of that history so that hostile relations between Christians and Jews across history could be better understood without polemics. It established the open door at which listening and seeing the truth the other espoused could take place. Jews and Christians began to learn about each other from each other.

Official dialogues exist through the Vatican, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), and in cities like Chicago. They have produced such texts as “A Legacy of Catholic-Jewish Dialogue” (Chicago), “God’s Mercy Endures Forever: How to Talk about Jews and Judaism” (USCCB), and periodic documents and joint statements from the Commission of the Holy See for Religious Relations with the Jews (Vatican).

Catholic institutions such as the University of Notre Dame offer courses like “The Jewish-Christian Encounter: From Disputation to Dialogue,” to open minds, hearts and imaginations to the reality of the past and the hope of the future.

May God, who has begun this good work, bring it to completion.

(Father Rick Ginther is director of the archdiocesan Office of Ecumenism. He is also dean of the Terre Haute deanery and pastor of St. Patrick and St. Margaret Mary parishes, both in Terre Haute. E-mail him at rginther@saintpat.org)

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