Christian and Jewish shared fidelity

By Simon Barrow
March 16, 2009

The lifting of the excommunication on Holocaust-denier Richard Williamson has left many people confused about the Catholic Church’s relation to the Jewish people.

In a carefully crafted piece for the fine online Jesuit journal 'Thinking Faith', John McDade, principal of Heythrop College in the University of London, seeks to set the record straight - arguing against the 'replacement theology' and supercessionism that has become popular in some reactionsry Christian circles.

In his cause he quotes Pope Benedict: "As Christians and Jews, following the example of the faith of Abraham, we are called to be a blessing for the world. This is the common task awaiting us. It is therefore necessary for us, Christians and Jews, to be first a blessing to one another."

McDade goes on: "[B]oth Jew and Gentile Christian are members of the household of God because membership by one does not mean exclusion of the other. How are Christians to think of what a living, contemporary Judaism means? John Pawlikowski offers us a simple starting point: Judaism is a ‘kinship community’ that has been constituted in response to revelation [First Things 62 (April 1996), pp.52-4]. Jews are a people, a family, descended from the Patriarchs. But more needs to be said. Rabbi Norman Solomon offers a valuable description of the character of Judaism: it is universal in significance (of service to all) and particular in focus (while remaining distinct):

One of the most peddled distortions of Judaism is that is some sort of ‘ethnic’ religion. As Jews themselves, sometimes even the learned among them, are principally responsible for this notion getting about, I cannot follow my gut reaction of blaming it on anti-Semitism. But it is about as wrong-headed as can be. Judaism combines a world religion with a prototype people. …. Judaism is a missionary (though not necessarily proselytising) religion, with deep concern for the world and a profound contribution to make to resolving its present problems... [Judaism and World Religion, Macmillan, 1991].

"Taken together, Pawlikowski and Solomon point us towards an approach which we can develop using a remark from Archbishop Rowan Williams, who points out that Judaism and Christianity are not two competing answers to the same question; they are rather different answers to different questions. So if we ask what is the question to which the answer is ‘Judaism’, it might be: how does a people conduct a universal mission on behalf of God while remaining a distinct people?", concludes McDade.

The whole article is here:

Actually, that may not be hugely different if we ask what is the question to which the answer is 'Christianity' - though the exemplary and discipleship core of Christian community is something the Christendom church has tended to lose.

Perhaps the crisis of institutional religion will provide the occasion to re-negotiate relationships among the great faiths on the basis of distinct witness, shared conversation, and the work of hospitable communities. This provides a very different dynamic to that of competitive difference mediated through organisational power and ideological exclusion.

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