Saturday, April 7, 2012

Benedict XVI and the Covenant with Israel

Here is an excerpt from a talk I gave recently at McGill University's Newman Centre:

In a 2009 lecture entitled ‘Pope Benedict XVI on Jews and Judaism: Retreat or Reaffirmation’, John Pawlikowski, a scholar of Jewish-Catholic relations,  concluded that while Benedict is 

(2)“profoundly sensitive to the horrors of the Holocaust [he] lacks an adequate grasp of Christian complicity in its execution…On the theological level, while pledging continued support of [sic] the teachings of Vatican II and of his predecessor John Paul II, Pope Benedict has not contributed anything constructive to the continued development of a new theological understanding of the Church’s relationship with the Jewish people.”[1]

I take Pawlikowski’s conclusion to constitute a serious charge, and I want to share with you a few observations from my reading of Benedict’s theological scholarship that contradict this pessimistic assessment. In short, I claim that Benedict’s regard for the house of Israel and the Jewish people is new because he wants the Bible, read first of all in light of Christian doctrine, to purge the church of anti-Judaism and therefore, anti-semitism. Scripture and tradition are the church’s means for striving for a proper relationship with the Jewish people. A false irenicism would certainly be a poor substitute. So, Benedict understands the value of the former in order to counter the tendency to promote the latter.

The church’s appreciation for the Jewish people emerges from an understanding of the covenant... Covenant and revelation are categories woven into the fabric of Benedict’s biblical theology... 

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