Walking Together? A Response to the Australian Bishops

“…what Walking Together really does is oppose the Church’s traditional covenantal theology, assert that the Gospel evangelists’ depictions of the Pharisees are wrong, and blame Catholicism for the holocaust.”

On March 22, the Australian Bishops Conference released a document titled Walking Together: Catholics with Jews in the Australian Context which, according to the president of the Executive Council on Australian Jewry, “bears eloquent testimony to the intimacy of the connection between Judaism and Christianity.” However, what Walking Together really does is oppose the Church’s traditional covenantal theology, assert that the Gospel evangelists’ depictions of the Pharisees are wrong, and blame Catholicism for the holocaust.

Walking Together opens with the phrase “Catholic identity is intimately linked to the faith of Israel.” This is true, provided one understands what “Israel” is. As recorded in Genesis 15, God made a covenant with the Hebrew patriarch Abram (later renamed Abraham), as we read in verses 5-6: “[God said] ‘Look toward heaven and count the stars, if you are able to count them… So shall your descendants be.’”

Many hundreds of years later, St. Paul, a former Pharisee, wrote in Galatians 3:16, “Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring; it does not say, ‘And to offsprings,’ as of many; but it says, ‘And to your offspring,’ that is, to one person, who is Christ.” St. Paul is recalling Genesis 22:18, when the angel told Abraham, “By your offspring shall all the nations of the earth gain blessing for themselves, because you have obeyed my voice.” We learn that the “offspring” through whom all nations are blessed is Jesus Christ, not Abraham’s biological descendants. As St. Paul says in Romans 9:8, “it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as descendants.” In Luke 3:8, Christ told the Pharisees, “Do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our ancestor’; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham.” Therefore, Abraham’s true descendants are his spiritual descendants who have faith in Christ, hence “Catholic identity is intimately linked to the faith of Israel.”

Walking Together is misleading on this point. Modern Jews are not Old Testament Israelites. Contemporary Judaism is based on the teachings of the Talmud – a profoundly anti-Christian collection of texts (one section teaches that Christ is burning in excrement in hell as punishment for his sins). Our “elder brothers in the faith,” to use Pope Benedict XVI’s phrase, are the Israelites of the Old Testament, not Rabbinic or secular Jews of today.

Despite this, the Australian Bishop’s Conference asserts that “Our society will only be strong when we acknowledge and honour each person and their right to help build our society. This belief impels us to work against racism and anti-Judaism.” What, exactly, is “anti-Judaism”? Is it opposition to the teachings of the Talmud, which blasphemes Christ? Is it telling Jews that they must repent and become Christians, as the first Christians did? Without a definition of “anti-Judaism,” this statement is meaningless and serves to shield Jews against criticism, much like the term “antisemitism,” which will be addressed below.

Walking Together continues: “the Church’s own self-understanding has a permanent, intrinsic reference to Judaism. Christians, therefore, are to be naturally attentive to Jewish experience and willing to cooperate with Jews to bring about God’s reign.” As noted above, the Church’s intrinsic bond is with our Old Testament forebears, not contemporary Jews, so it is unclear why Australian Catholics must be “willing to cooperate with Jews to bring about God’s reign,” or what this means. Jews oppose the reign of God by opposing Christ, who is called “King of kings and Lord of Lords.” (Rev. 3:19) The Australian bishops expect their flock to compromise on biblical principles.

Far from cooperating with Jews, the early Christians were determined to proclaim the Gospel to them so that they would find salvation in their messiah. For example, in Acts 7 St. Stephen guides his Jewish listeners through the ways in which Israel’s history points to Christ, before saying, “You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you are forever opposing the Holy Spirit, just as your ancestors used to do. Which of the prophets did your ancestors not persecute? They killed those who foretold the coming of the Righteous One, and now you have become his betrayers and murderers.” Was St. Stephen espousing “anti-Judaism” when he preached the sermon that led to his martyrdom? The Australian bishops seem to think so, as St. Stephn was not “willing to cooperate with Jews.”

We then learn from the Australian Bishops Conference that “We recognise God’s enduring covenant with the Jews. We know that God is faithful and that God’s covenant with the Jews has never been revoked, and that therefore Catholics avoid any approach towards Jews that suggest they are bereft of a saving relationship with God.” It is true that God’s covenant with Israel has never been “revoked” or broken. God did not make a covenant with Abraham only to change his mind and break his promise. Rather, the Old Covenant was intended to be fulfilled by the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. It appears the Australian bishops think St. Stephen was wasting his time by explaining why the Jews should have faith in Christ, as Walking Together plainly suggests that Jews are saved by virtue of the Abrahamic covenant apart from Christ, something the Church has never taught. As 1 John 2:23 states: “No one who denies the Son has the Father; everyone who confesses the Son has the Father also,” hence the first Christian martyr preached with urgency.

Walking Together then asserts that the Church’s traditional covenantal theology is “antisemitic”:

A theological expression of antisemitism is supersessionism. This theological construct envisions Judaism as being replaced by the teachings of Jesus and of the Church. It comes from a false understanding of the New Testament and a lack of appreciation of the Jewishness of Jesus. The Catholic Church no longer teaches or even suggests that Israel has been superseded by the Church; it acknowledges the continuation of the vibrant life of Judaism today and recognises that God’s covenant with Israel continues to be strong and life-giving.

Supersessionism is simply the term used to describe the idea that, as St. Augustine observed, “In the Old Testament the New is concealed, in the New the Old is revealed.” The Abrahamic and Mosaic Covenants point forward to their fulfilment for all people through Christ. Hebrews 8:13 states: “In speaking of ‘a new covenant,’ he [God] has made the first one obsolete.” St. Justin Martyr declared in his Dialogue with Trypho: “the true spiritual Israel, and descendants of Judah, Jacob, Isaac, and Abraham… are we who have been led to God through this crucified Christ…”

The author of Hebrews was referring to the Mosaic law, but the point stands as the Mosaic Law was the means God used to uphold the Abrahamic covenant until Christ came, and the inheritors of God’s promise to Abraham are those who have faith in Christ. St. Paul writes in Galatians 3, “God granted it [Abraham’s inheritance] to Abraham through the promise… the law was our disciplinarian until Christ came, so that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer subject to a disciplinarian… all of you are one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise.” Therefore, to speak of “God’s enduring covenant with the Jews,” as though this existed apart from the need for repentance and faith in Christ is misleading.

On the “theological construct” of supersessionism, Pope Pius XII wrote in his 1943 encyclical Mystici Corporis Christ:

And first of all, by the death of our Redeemer, the New Testament took the place of the Old Law which had been abolished; then the Law of Christ together with its mysteries, enactments, institutions, and sacred rites was ratified for the whole world in the blood of Jesus Christ… on the gibbet of His death, Jesus made void the Law with its decrees, fastened the handwriting of the Old Testament to the Cross, establishing the New Testament in His blood shed for the whole human race. “To such an extent, then,” says St. Leo the Great, speaking of the Cross of our Lord, “was there effected a transfer from the Law to the Gospel, from the Synagogue to the Church, from many sacrifices to one Victim, that, as our Lord expired, that mystical veil which shut off the innermost part of the temple and its sacred secret was rent violently from top to bottom.”

The notion that the Jews have an ongoing covenant with God apart from Christ, known as “dual covenant” theology, is foreign to Catholic teaching. The Mosaic Law was the “disciplinarian” of God’s covenant people until Christ came, which rendered the Law void and fulfilled God’s promise to Abraham. The novelty of dual covenant theology only began to be accepted by Catholics after the Vatican II document Nostra Aetate was published in 1965, even though that document does not teach dual covenant theology.

Why must Catholics dispense with clear biblical teaching and authoritative historic tradition? Well, according to the Australian bishops, “The Holocaust stands out as the most significant [fracture in Catholic/Jewish relations], fed by antisemitism, supercessionism, a proselytising attitude and a failure to recognise our roots in Judaism and the Jewishness of Jesus.” Walking Together essentially posits that traditional covenantal theology, along with attempts to convert the Jews (does this include St. Stephen and St. Paul?) “fed” the holocaust. The Australian bishops do not explain how this is so, but the document continues:

Our Christian theology has been reshaped in light of the Holocaust… We are further concerned about the increasing levels of ignorance and even denial of the Holocaust… This anti-Jewish sentiment has been fuelled by two thousand years of a troubled relationship… We bishops will continue to work justice for all, especially those marginalised by radical, strident voices that propagate antisemitism, misinformation, and warped interpretations of history.”

That “Our Christian theology has been reshaped in light of the Holocaust” is a remarkable admission from the Australian Bishops Conference. On what basis did the holocaust necessitate changing our theology, and how is this possible if the Holy Spirit safeguards the Church’s teaching? Perhaps the Australian Bishops Conference used Wikipedia for their research, as the article Antisemitism in Christianity also currently blames Christianity for the holocaust when it states:

Antisemitic Christian rhetoric and the antipathy toward Jews which result from it both date back to the early years of Christianity and are derived from pagan anti-Jewish attitudes that were reinforced by the belief that Jews were responsible for the murder of Jesus of Nazareth. Christians imposed increasing anti-Jewish measures over the ensuing centuries… measures which culminated in the Holocaust.

If the Australian Bishops Conference and Wikipedia are to be believed, then the “rhetoric” and “attitudes” of St. Paul, St. John, and even of Christ himself ultimately led to the holocaust – a scandalous notion that clearly serves Jewish interests by undermining Catholic teaching.

The hijacking of Church teaching by Jewish interests is most clearly demonstrated in Walking Together in the chapter titled Jesus’ relationship with Judaism and the Pharisees. It reads:

Jesus’ concern was to renew the Jewish faith of his people… This conviction also aligned him with the Pharisees… Later portraits of the Pharisees by the Gospel evangelists are not historically accurate. In the Gospels, the Pharisees are depicted as Jesus’ antagonists who resist his teaching. Jesus criticises them. In John’s Gospel, he says their father is the devil (Jn 8:44). This negative Gospel portrait of the Pharisees does not reflect their actual situation in the time of Jesus.

With this document, the Australian bishops have asserted that the Gospel authors and Christ himself were wrong. The idea that Christ and the Pharisees were “aligned” is ludicrous (one wonders why they plotted to kill Christ if this were the case). Jesus consistently and sternly rebuked the Pharisees, who accused him of being demon-possessed (Matt. 9:34; 12:24). In saying the testimony of Scripture is mistaken, the bishops have contradicted Church teaching.

In his 1893 encyclical Providentissimus Deus, Pope Leo XIII wrote, “all the books which the Church receives as sacred and canonical, are written wholly and entirely, with all their parts, at the dictation of the Holy Ghost; and so far is it from being possible that any error can co-exist with inspiration, that inspiration not only is essentially incompatible with error, but excludes and rejects it as absolutely and necessarily as it is impossible that God Himself, the supreme Truth, can utter that which is not true.” How, then, can the Australian bishops release a document declaring that “Later portraits of the Pharisees by the Gospel evangelists are not historically accurate”? These are contradictory statements, and only the former is authoritative Catholic teaching.

Walking Together then reminds readers that “[Catholic liturgy] is not the place to offer negative comments or comparisons about our elder brothers and sisters, the Jewish people, or the Pharisees, the forebears of Rabbinic Judaism.” If the Church took this admonition seriously then much of the Gospels, the Acts of the Apostles, and St. Paul’s writings would not be read during Catholic liturgies. Does the Australian Bishops Conference consider these large sections of Scripture “antisemitic”? The notion that Catholic liturgy must be shaped according to what Jews find offensive is absurd and antithetical to the preaching of the Gospel.

Walking Together presents a clear indication of the vice grip that Jewish interests have on the Australian bishops. Christ’s shepherds are telling the faithful that Our Lord and his evangelists were wrong, and that Catholic theology “fed” the holocaust. These falsehoods must not be allowed to endure. However, we can be grateful for the fact that Walking Together has belled the cat on the Jewish subversion of Australian Catholicism.

God is sovereign, therefore the Australian Bishops Conference’s attempt to make Australian Catholics compromise on their faith will not succeed. As always, the truth will emerge.

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