Jaeger David M. ,
Miscellanea: References and Préferences in the Christian-Jewish Dialogue ,
Antonianum, 58/2-3 (1983) p. 479-487
There can be no doubt that the Christian-Jewish dialogue is a worthy enterprise full of problems of the most difficult and most complex sort. There are, first of all, the problems attendant upon any inter-religious dialogue, mainly concerning its nature, procedure, and finality, as well as the Christian partner's non-negotiable commitment to carry on at the same time the work of evangelisation, which is, in principle, directed to the same persons and groups of persons with whom he is engaging in dialogue. There then emerges the specific Problematik of the dialogue with representatives of Judaism, inasmuch as Judaism is not simply « another religion, » but a religion with which Christianity shares a common heritage, which is at the origin of both, while being at the same time a precise locus of division. In effect, insofar as their respective appropriations of the common patrimony of the Hebrew Scriptures are concerned, the two may be said not only to differ, as any two religions of course do, but to be mutually opposed. Finally, it is not at all possible to engage in Christian-Jewish dialogue, at whatever level, without being drawn in some way into a host of non-theological, or but doubtfully theological issues, arising mostly from extremely painful historical memories, as well as from the fact the Jewish collectivity understands itself to be much more than just a religious movement, and maintains that the religious element cannot really be separated from other elements in its identity, or even suffisiently distinguished from them for the purpose of having a purely religious dialogue. O These mere allusions to the truly formidable character of the undertaking suffice to indicate the extensive preparation required in order to take part in it intelligently and responsibly. One who, by such exacting standards, ought to be eminently qualified is Prof. Clemens Thoma of Lucern University. (2) His recent book, Die theologischen Beziehungen zwis-chen Christentum und Judentum, (3) which gives the impression of a competent distillation of very considerable erudition indeed, is clearly intended to do no more than introduce the theologically literate reader to the principal themes. Nonetheless, both the evident scholarship of its author and the opportunity it offers for critical and interrogative reflection on key issues affecting the dialogue appear to justify a somewhat extended discussion, in place of the normally rather shorter book reviews included in this publication. Thus, while comments and criticism are usually made with specifie reference to Prof. Thoma's book, their intended application is of course far wider than that. One does hope this is not too unfair.
In many ways the book is a model - it is highly readable, yet without making any concessions; it is also tightly organised and highly informative. The bibliographical references supplied by the author are reasonably abundant, although those to secondary literature appear in footnotes, whereas a separate bibliographical section is reserved for « primary literature and translations. » Naturally the book has specifically the German reader in mind, but this does not appreciably reduce its interest or usefulnes to others. Above all it is the author's wide-ranging acquaintance with the Jewish sources which commends and distinguishes it. At the same time it leads one to reflect regretfully on how often comparable learning is not present in those who speak of Judaism or Jewish-Christian relations, resulting in the most frightful generalisations.
The best part of the book is surely its ample treatment of the question of God, of Deus Unus, which it would locate at the very heart of the Christian-Jewish encounter. This takes up most of the fifth and last chapter, entitled, « Christliche Lehren in jiidischer Perspektive und jiidische Lehren in christlicher Perspektive, » and which in turn covers most of the second half of the book (96-157). The non-specialist reader, Christian or Jewish, will find it leading him to reconsider facile stereotypes of the Jewish position, which would make it out to be absolutely innocent of any attempt to reconcile the unity and unicity of God with admitting distinctions that are not simply quoad nos, or merely nominal. Nonetheless I do think that, in the process, considerations of Jewish Esoterik are carried to lengths not really commensurate either with their relation to recognisably normative Jewish religion, or with their actual importance for Jews in the present. Contrary to the author's impression (124), Qabbala is theologically and religiously of little moment in Judaism today, except in the case of some small circles, or as a subject of purely scholarly research.
The author probes inconclusively (?) the question of whether Arian Christology (and Theo-logy) might not have been more palatable to Jews than Nicene orthodoxy. At the deepest level of conscious and reflexive principle, the answer must surely be that the exact opposite ought to be the case: Upon careful examination it will be seen that a single, powerful theological principle guided the clarification and definition process of both Judaism and Christianity in the first centuries of the Christian Era, namely that the «infinite qualitative distance » (Kierkegaard) between Creator (God) and creatures, mere creatures, is such as to exclude any suggestion of « intermediate »beings or states. Christianity clarified decisively that homoiousios is therefore impossible, and that consequently Christ is either hotnoou-sios with God (the Father) or is not at all of any transcendent significance. Judaism too was at the same time engaged upon a severe pruning away from the tradition of extravagant apocalyptic and an-gelology-angelolatry, to crystallise eventually as what is known as «Rabbinical Judaism,» in accordance with the same principle. Ironically it may have been — must have been — its proximate contact with heretical Jewish Christianity and its « intermediate » Christology that was responsible for the vehemence of its rejection of Christianity, rather than direct confrontation with the orthodox tradition. Indeed that tradition, as eventually defined by Nicaea-Chalcedon, and usefully presented in the later Quicumque vult (« Athanasian ») Creed, fully safeguards precisely the principle that Judaism has ever been anxious to defend. All of this suggests a line of investigation far removed from certain opinions of « received wisdom » on the matter, and very much worth pursuing.
The same chapter — speaking now of Christ — also contains a timely reminder of the large measure of indeterminacy in the concept of « Messiah » in Judaism at any time. Its surprising suggestion though of giving it up as a designation of Christ, in the sense of no longer acclaiming Christ as the Messiah of Jewish expectation, is hardly creditable. It certainly runs counter to the experience and witness of Jewish converts even today.
Perhaps the most important criticism that one can make of this properly theological part of the book regards the prominence accorded — through frequent reference and extensive quotation — to anti-Christian Jewish polemics, dating mainly from the Middle Ages. As the author himself acknowledges, such polemics was born of circumstances of hardship and repression suffered by the Jews, being primarily and properly aimed at dissuading Jews from (temporally advantageous) conversion to Christianity — it is no more helpful in learning of Judaism than of Christianity. It is sordid and often offensive, and — most importantly — practically forgotten among Jews at the present day. Resurrecting it is irrelevant to the theological dialogue and has the potential of being harmful in more ways than one. I suggest that interest in it is appropriately confined to specialists doing historical research.
The first four chapters of the book deal informatively with all sorts of preliminaries and are best presented by their own titles: 1. Einfiihrung 2. Ansatze der Kirchen fiir den Dialog mit Juden seit 1945 3. Hemmnisse heutiger Juden gegen den Dialog mit Christen 4. Angefangene, missdeutete, missbrauchte und erwartete Heilsges-chichte. This is not the place to list all those points on which one would beg to differ, but a couple at least must rate a mention: The author does treat at some length of the Holocaust, which is more than justified, considering particularly that he is writing in German for Germans. More than once though, he follows the « convention» of referring to « Christian guilt » in the matter. This is a highly ambiguous reference: At the simplest level, it may refer to the fact that the perpetrators of those heinous crimes were presumably all — or as nearly all as to make no difference — baptised Christians, but can the significance of this for Christianity be any different from that of Iscariot's having been one of the Twelve? And if one may not overlook Nazism's ability to exploit centuries of unspeakable verbal and physical attacks on Jews, carried out under more or less Christian auspices, one ought nonetheless to insist that racist, Nazi antisemitism has been of a different order altogether, and in no way conceivable as an extension potentially latent in the former. More to the point, is not the fact massively significant that the Holocaust took place, not in a Christian civilisation (as is often asserted), but in a European civilisation which — already about a hundred and fifty years before — had embarked on a rapid process of de-Christianisation? Moreover the most salutary course of reflection ought — to my mind — to suggest that hatred for Jews on the part of European Christians had always been at bottom in some way a reaction of the residual pagan (or «Old Adam ») against those with whom there originated his present «bondage» to pure worship and high ethical standards and norms - in effect, a rebellion against Christianity itself, assaulted in the figure of a less powerful surrogate, or « proxy. » This sheds new light too on the often neglected fact that higher ecclesiastical authority tended on the whole to moderate the persecution of the Jews by either the raging mob or the secular princes. To grasp this properly, one must of course take into account the respective horizons of succeeding periods, scrupulously avoiding the temptation to anachronism.
Seen in this perspective, it would have been the ideological and political assault on Christianity and the Church — sustained on a wide front during the century and a half between the French Revolution and Kristallnacht — that prepared the way for what should have been a graduated « Final Solution, » applied first against the «originator » of the hated values and norms and then against its still potent « offspring » — by the Nazis, but also — quite probably, in their own way and in a different order - by the Bolsheviks. Fundamentally was not this pagan resentment and rebellion actually brought to the surface, and given direct «philosophical» expression by Nietzsche?
On the other hand, in spite of his genuine sympathy and his uncommon understanding of Jewish problems and feelings, Prof. Thoma risks offending Jews deeply, at least a good many of them, by suggesting that the Holocaust could somehow be put in a class with earlier Jewish suffering, or with the contemporaneous suffering of others, exemplified, inter alios, by Germans and homosexuals (78 ff.). Indeed his mention of Hadrian's massacres hardly bears out his thesis, since they took place in the wake of his suppression of the Bar-Kokhba rebellion and so were not as absolute an acte gratuit as Hitler's. It is in even worse taste to adduce (78) the German experiment with Nazism in support of the (perfectly sound) warning against any apotheosis of political movements and states, with specific reference to the State of Israel.
Faced with the author's practically complete rejection of directing the Church's mission of evangelisation to the eJws, as being neither necessary nor quite licit (92 ff.), one is bound to wonder what precise conception of the nature and purpose of Christianity underlies it. Such a position is at variance with belief in the universality of the call to salvation, and in the necessity for salvation of baptism and eccle-sial membership, as held and taugh in the Catholic Church (cf. Lumen Gentium § 14, Ad Gentes Divinitus § 7). This belief is continuous with the fundamental conviction of the New Testament that, «there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved » (Acts 4,12). This conviction and its corollary, the urgent invitation, « Be baptised, every one of you, in the name of Jesus » (Acts, 2, 38), are — incidentally — addressed, in the reported original setting, precisely to Jews. In the same context, it is the clear perception of St. Paul that to postulate any other possible way of salvation would be to empty the Christian faith of all meaning (cf. Romans 4,14; also Galatians 2,21). In other words, the grounding belief in the universal necessity of Christianity for salvation, and its corallary in the Church's universal evangelising mission (cf. Mt 28,19 f.), express Christianity's and the Church's very nature (cf. Ad Gentes Divinitus § 2). Since I have argued the matter and its implications elsewhere, (4) I shall not develop it further here, although, of all the issues touched upon in the present discussion, it is absolutely the most important in defining the correct terms of the dialogue.
Closely connected with the former issue is the omission of any serious discussion of the witness of Jewish converts to Christianity, especially with regard to their particular sense of fulfilled identity, but also with regard to their affirmation of continued membership of the Jewish people and participation in its history. Consideration of this should be of notable significance, among other things, as being a concrete response to Jewish anxieties that successful evangelisation might lead to the disappearance of the Jewish people, and that as the Church gains a new member, the Jewish people necessarily loses him. The matter ought to come up too in discussing the Holocaust, in which such converts fully shared. The well known case of Edith Stein is an eloquent reminder of this. Indeed an eventual beatification of Edith Stein, together with such other signs as the widely publicised self-understanding of Cardinal Lustiger of Paris, would eventually be bound to affect Jewish perceptions of the question. In Israel, already twenty years ago, practically all the Churches, Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant, signed a common statement to the effect that they regarded converts as continuing to be members of their people, just as they were from the day of their birth.
The scope for writing on Christian-Jewish theological relations is vast, and any single volume in this field must therefore be selective. However reconsidering the book as a whole, and mindful of its « typical » character, which has gained for it this extended discussion, one does wonder whether the particular selection it embodies really is the most helpful one. As already noted, the bulk of the properly theological discussion is taken up with the « classic » themes of the Christian-Jewish encounter since the days of the disputationes and the uneirenic dialogi, namely the possibility of tripersonality in the One God, the possibility and fact of Incarnation, the « periodising » of the history of salvation, the Messiah, and even, quaintly enough, the ritual purity of the Blessed Virgin Mary... No doubt one would want — and need — to assure one's partner in dialogue of the reasonableness of one's own faith, as well as to clear away the deadwood of crass misunderstanding and prejudice, superimposed, irrelevantly and harmfully, upon the real areas of truth-conflict. But is not this after all a limited and essentially secondary process? As the author himself notes, inter-religious dialogue has this difference from ecumenical dialogue among Christians, that it does not aim at resolving the issues in dispute as part of the dialogical process itself, or as its own proper conclusion (such resolution, we may add, is properly the achievement of « intellectual, moral, and religious conversion »). It might therefore be more fruitful to concentrate on areas that admit a joint practical and even theoretical exploration, on the basis of a largely common understanding of the common heritage: Prof. D. Bur-rell, C.S.C., recently had these rather pertinent remarks to make, albeit in the context of a different discussion: « Whoever confesses to "believe in One God, Creator of heaven and earth," is... (making) a religious affirmation. In so confessing our faith, we are reminding ourselves and one another that all this is gift... This doctrine, Diogenes Allen has shown, anchors our conception of God and of ourselves in relation to God in an ontological context of free gift. Moreover, it is this doctrine — not something so irreducibly vague as "monotheism" — which links Christians with Jews at their very roots.» (5) The doctrine of Creation — even without accord on its Christocentric reference — is immensely rich with possibilities. Moreover there is a continuity from its own disclosure of the dignity of man to the — similarly shared — Prophetic call for justice and mercy in human relations as constitutive of true religion and inseparable from its « vertical » essence.
There is another aspect too to the question of the most appropriate, or most helpful, thematic specification of the dialogue with the Jews: Let it be said that one somehow lays down Prof. Thoma's book, wondering whether the impression that it must convey to the reader not already familiar with Judaism may not be rather «off key.» Due to the thematik selected, and the relative proportion of the book assigned to its components, the consideration of Judaism in it is dependent on a Christian theological agenda and so is slightly negative, or anti-typical. Referring so extensively to obsolete and repellent polemic on the one hand, and to actually marginal «theosophisms» on the other, while failing to treat at all extensively of the orthopractical « core » of Judaism, i.e. the Mitsvot, or « precept,» which — rather than dogmas of belief — are properly constitutive of formal, normative Judaism, does not improve matters in this respect. Rather, it seems, Christians ought to want to gain significant insight into what Judaism is in itself, into what its own proper dynamism and vitality consist in. Here there is real riches for us all to gain through study and dialogue. By way of example, one may mention topics such as (what we would call) the mission and spirituality of the laity (and actual Judaism is an entirely « lay» religion, with but non-hieratic ministers), community-« communion »-being members of one another, the « consecration of the world, » divine study as worship (a link with our own monastic tradition of study, seriously eclipsed now) and so many other themes of religious thought, life and practice, which are so highly developed in Judaism, and which we ourselves now seek to develop or recover. Nor would dialogue on this be one sided in the benefits it yielded: Central themes in Judaism's ortho-praxis might be illuminated for Jews too through such exphcitation and interpretation as would be part of the dialogue: There is ample room to explore together the significance of the Mitsvot in Judaism, as a sign that makes present the Creator's Reign, a celebration of a «total liturgy,» of wich they are, as it were the « rubrics » and «texts,» and which is conceived as a constant re-ferring of creation to the Creator, thus consecrating it to him, through the agency of man who, as the conscious « crown of creation » (nezer habb'ri'ah), acts as it's — or rather, God's — « priest. » Any knowledge of the structure of the practising Jew's day, which consists in a constant re-ferring to the Creator, « The Lord, Our God, the King of the Universe (better: of Creation), Blessed be He » of even the smallest use of creation, the smallest action, such as simply drinking a glass of water (for which the blessing is specified: « By Whose Word all has come into into being »), ought to point to the validity of this line of reflection and interpretation.
None of these criticisms, comments, or suggestions should dissuade anyone from taking up Prof. Thoma's erudite volume and making much good use of it. Encouragement to do so may indeed be found in the initial over-all assessment, which is most certainly maintained. Having said this clearly, I shall permit myself to make two more points, in the interest of proper rigour of theological thought and expression: One is that, as the reader should no doubt see for himself, the prayer — by « a modern Jewish sholar » — quoted in full on p. 66 and recommended by the author as suitable for use by both the Pope and Jewish Chief Rabbis (this latter being, as a matter of fact, a category of purely civil law, not a religious one), is most probably not really suitable for use by either: It is — I submit — an expression of cheerfully unabashed Pelagianism, suitable mostly for « liberals» of any or no religious denomination. The other is that, having seceded in later life to the Montanist heresy, the great Tertul-lian is not a Kirchenvater — a title the author gratuitously bestows upon him on p. 43 — but simply an « ecclesiastical writer ,» however eminent.