A Tale of Two Covenants, Part Two
As we discussed in our last column, the Progressive Dissenting reaction to the Reflections on Covenant and Mission document was as wrong as it was hasty. Many people assumed that “the Church now teaches” that salvation was possible apart from Jesus Christ. But in fact the Church has never reversed (and will never reverse) its clear teaching concerning Christ that “there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). However, Progressive Dissenters often wish the Church did not teach what it has always taught, and they often use the media to trumpet imaginary “changes” in the Church’s teaching.
Worse still, Reactionary Dissenters often believe what they hear trumpeted in the media and over-react accordingly, panicking and reflexively making counter-claims which also either contradict Church teaching, or bind the faithful to propositions the Church has not definitively taught.
The trouble for Reactionary Dissenters, when it comes to the relationship of the Old and New Covenants, tends to center around certain passages from Nostra Aetate, the Vatican II document on the Church's relationship with the Jews. It reads:
[W]hat happened in His passion cannot be charged against all the Jews, without distinction, then alive, nor against the Jews of today. Although the Church is the new people of God, the Jews should not be presented as rejected or accursed by God, as if this followed from the Holy Scriptures. All should see to it, then, that in catechetical work or in the preaching of the word of God they do not teach anything that does not conform to the truth of the Gospel and the spirit of Christ.
As Holy Scripture testifies, Jerusalem did not recognize the time of her visitation, nor did the Jews in large number, accept the Gospel; indeed not a few opposed its spreading. Nevertheless, God holds the Jews most dear for the sake of their Fathers; He does not repent of the gifts He makes or of the calls He issues--such is the witness of the Apostle (Romans 11:28-29).
Contrary to this, one well-known Reactionary Dissenter insists:
The Church is hostile to “Jews” because they have defined themselves as rejecters of Christ. The Church is anti-Jewish...
Don't misunderstand. This well known Reactionary Dissenter thinks being "anti-Jewish" is a good thing. True Catholic Faith[TM] is, according to this and many other Reactionary Dissenters, defined not by the love of Christ, but by being "anti-Jewish". This despite the fact that Nostra Aetate clearly teaches:
We cannot truly call on God, the Father of all, if we refuse to treat in a brotherly way any man, created as he is in the image of God. Man's relation to God the Father and his relation to men his brothers are so linked together that Scripture says: "He who does not love does not know God" (1 John 4:8).
No foundation therefore remains for any theory or practice that leads to discrimination between man and man or people and people, so far as their human dignity and the rights flowing from it are concerned.
The Church reproves, as foreign to the mind of Christ, any discrimination against men or harassment of them because of their race, color, condition of life, or religion. On the contrary, following in the footsteps of the holy Apostles Peter and Paul, this sacred synod ardently implores the Christian faithful to "maintain good fellowship among the nations" (1 Peter 2:12), and, if possible, to live for their part in peace with all men, so that they may truly be sons of the Father who is in heaven.
Some Reactionary Dissenters try to get around this teaching by circulating petitions "publicly requesting the Holy Father to officially and formally declare that Catholics are not bound to hold or accept the novel teachings of Vatican II."
Others are less direct, and more confusing to many Catholics. Instead of the preposterous claim that Vatican II can simply be ignored, they instead attempt to bind Catholics to a sweeping and highly problematic proposition: the notion that the covenant with Moses has been "revoked". Many adopt a position that is the photographic negative of the Judaizers in the books of Acts. Instead of insisting that Christian Gentiles have to become Jews to be saved, they insist that Christian Jews have to become Gentiles.
Bottom line: In addition to often being a direct attack on the indefectibility of the Church, this issue also matters because it raises troubling pastoral issues. In parts three and four of this series, we will take a look at whether the Church has, in fact, ever taught that the Old Covenant has been revoked.
Copyright 2007 - Mark P. Shea