Grace and Vocation without Remorse: Comments on the Treatise De Iudaeis

Benedict XVI

1. THE THEOLOGICAL SIGNIFICANCE OF THE DIALOGUE BETWEEN JEWS AND CHRISTIANS

Since Auschwitz, it has been clear that the Church needs to think anew about the question of the nature of Judaism. With the declaration Nostra aetate, the Second Vatican Council provided the first basic indications. To be sure, we first have to specify what the treatise on the Jews [De  Iudaeis] is about. The justly-praised book by Franz Mußner on this theme is essentially a book about the enduring positive meaning of the Old Testament. This is undoubtedly very important, but it does not correspond to the theme De Iudaeis. For “Judaism” in the strict sense does not mean the Old Testament, which is essentially common to Jews and Christians. In fact, there are two responses in history to the destruction of the temple and the new radical exile of Israel: Judaism and Christianity. It is true that Israel had already experienced several times the situation of the destruction of the temple and scattering. However, each time they were permitted to hope for a rebuilding of the temple and a return to the promised land. After the destruction of the temple in the year 70 AD, and definitively after the failure of the Bar Kokhba revolt, the concrete situation was different. In the given situation, the destruction of the temple and the scattering of Israel had to be considered as lasting at least a very long time. Finally, it became increasingly clear in the course of development that the temple with its cult was not to be restored, even if the political situation allowed it. But there was another answer for Jews to the destruction and scattering, an answer that, from the beginning, presupposed these events as definitive, and presupposed that the resulting situation was a process that the faith of Israel itself anticipated. This was the reaction of the Christians, who were not entirely separated from Judaism initially, but claimed to uphold the continuity of Israel in their faith. As we know, only a small part of Israel has been able to accept this answer, while the larger part resisted it and sought a solution in some other way. Of course, the two ways were by no means clearly separated from one another at the beginning, and thus they each developed again and again through debate with the other.


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