JERUSALEM, 19-23 NOVEMBER, 2001
PRESENTATION BY CARD. WALTER KASPER
The Jewish-Christian Dialogue:
I am very honoured for the opportunity that I have been given to deliver some reflections on the Jewish-Christian dialogue, its foundations, difficulties, progress and perspectives. It gives me particular pleasure that I have been invited to offer my reflections here in this City of Jerusalem, this holy City, which is highly symbolic for Jews and for Christians as well. Your invitation gave me the opportunity to return once more to the sacred sites of Jerusalem, sites which hold so much promise for peace. So I greet you saying “shalom”.
In the present-day situation of this city and of the whole world this greeting “shalom” becomes even more urgent. It becomes an instant prayer for peace which is more then the silence of arms and the absence of war and terrorist violence – although this would be much in the present situation. Shalom, peace in the sense of our common biblical tradition, is not based on power and domination of the one over the other; it is based on zedaka, justice and mutual recognition. In the book of the prophet Isaia we read of justice for all: “Justice shall yield peace” (Is 32,17). Thus, even in modern conflicts, Jews and Christians are called and indeed obliged to offer common witness and to work together for justice and peace. This alone should be reason enough for an authentic dialogue and intensive co-operation between Jews and Christians, a dialogue and a co-operation which cannot not be exclusive, but which should be undertaken for the sake of all.
Let me begin with a recent story. I had the good fortune to accompany the Holy Father on his recent trip to Ukraine. While most of that visit was dedicated to the pastoral care of Ukrainian Roman Catholics and Eastern Catholics, a good deal of time was also spent in trying to bridge the gap between the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church. Nonetheless, in the interest of Jewish-Christian reconciliation, the Holy Father was able to put some time aside to visit Babi Yar, the scene of the massacre of 100,000 Jews within a few days in September 1941. There he knelt silently in prayer and then recited the Psalm De profundis: “Out of the depth I cry to you, o Lord; O Lord, hear my voice. Let your ears be attentive to my cry for mercy”, (Psalm 130, 1-2). It was an intensely emotional moment.
I begin my address with this story to assure the Jewish community that the Catholic Church will not forget the Shoah, nor will we forget the pain inflicted upon the Jews over the centuries by those who often were Christians, nor will we ever support in any way the evil of anti-Semitism. I, therefore, repeat the words of the Second Vatican Council (1962-65) in the Declaration Nostra Aetate of 1965, which for us is still the basis and the compass for our relations:
This Declaration was and is an historical break-through after a long and sad history of indifference, misunderstanding, discrimination, denunciation, oppression and persecution. It was not formulated out of political consideration. Our motive is not political, it is theological, and it is ethical. It is informed by reasons of justice and by reasons of revealed truth.
By justice, because all forms of discrimination and defamation are opposed to respect for human dignity. In his message for the celebration of the World Day of Peace 1999 Pope John Paul II stated that respect for human dignity and human rights is the secret of true peace:
On a later paragraph he comes back to this point affirming:
In his message for the World Day of Peace 2001 the Pope underlines the counterpoint of discrimination and defamation. His thesis is:
“Dialogue between cultures for a civilisation of love and peace.” “I therefore – he writes – consider it urgent to invite believers in Christ, together with all men and women of good will, to reflect on the theme of dialogue between cultures and traditions. This dialogue is the obligatory path to the building of a reconciled world, a world able to look with serenity to its own future. This is a theme which is crucial to the pursuit of peace.”
The respect for human dignity and human rights is fundamental for all human relations and for peace throughout the world. However, in terms of relations between Jews and Christians, there is a further argument that should be analysed in order to oppose and reject discrimination and defamation. The Council’s condemnation of all forms of anti-Semitism is inspired by God’s revelation and witnessed in the Bible itself. According to Biblical witness, Abraham is our common father in faith. Jews and Christians, we both are children of Abraham. Moreover, Jesus himself, Mary his mother, the apostles, they all were Jews. What Christians call the New Testament is – as recent Biblical scholarship has explicated – deeply rooted in what we call the Old Testament, which for Jews is the Hebrew Bible. So Christianity cannot be detached from its Jewish roots; one cannot define Christian identity without making reference to Judaism. The Jews are, as Pope John Paul II emphasised, our older brothers.
An interdenominational group of more than 300 rabbis and outstanding Jewish scholars only some months ago published a remarkable common statement Dabru emet stating:
And the Council’s Declaration Nostra Aetate declared:
These affirmations of 1965 are the binding teaching of the Catholic Church; they are therefore valid still more than 35 years later. They lay the foundation of the spiritual and ethical commitment in Jewish-Christian dialogue.
In this Declaration the Second Vatican Council upheld the importance bridge-builders from the Jewish side. I mention here only the names of Franz Rosenzweig, Martin Buber, from whom as a young student I learnt so much, David Ben Chorin, David Flusser, Zvi Werblovsky, and Jules Isaac who, despite the tragedy that his own family had known, did not hesitate to enter into dialogue with the Christian tradition, envisaging and aspiring to a more truthful and just future. At the same time with its Declaration the Council opened the door for a re-evaluation of the role of Judaism in God’s plan of salvation past and present, and for the exploration of the special linkage between Judaism and Christianity.
Let me recall some steps of this re-evaluation. The work of Nostra Aetate continued with the establishment by the Holy See of an Office for Catholic-Jewish Relations in 1967 and finally a Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews in 1974 within the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity.
In 1974 this Commission issued the Guidelines and Suggestions for Implementing Nostra Aetate, stating:
The Guidelines lay out the basis for the Dialogue with Judaism:
The Guidelines also set forth areas in which dialogue would have a proper role: in the study of liturgy, in the formation of Catholic laity and clergy and in joint social action.
Eleven years later, in 1985, the Commission published the Notes on the Correct Way to Present Judaism in Preaching and Catechesis in the Catholic Church. Here there is a concern that Judaism is not presented in Catholic teaching as being merely an historical and superseded reality. It refers to “the permanent reality of the Jewish people … the people of God of the Old Covenant, which has never been revoked … as a living reality closely related to the Church.”
The claim for dialogue was very fruitful. The dialogue has developed over the last decades on many levels, national and international, popular and academic, educational and political. Whilst the Church Fathers wrote Tractatus contra Judaeos, several modern theologians write Tractatus de Judaeos in the sense of Tractatus pro Judaeos. Throughout nearly two millennia Christians have tended to characterise Judaism as a failed religion or, at best, a religion that prepared the way for, and is completed in, Christianity. Now we are aware of God’s unrevoked covenant with his people and of the permanent and actual salvific significance of Jewish religion for its believers.
These few quotations demonstrate that dialogue is much more than mutual information and objective communication. Dialogue is much more than “small talk”. Dialogue is one of the most fundamental concepts of 20th century philosophy and is related to the modern personalist way of thinking. It may be enough to mention in this context the names of famous Jews such as Martin Buber, Franz Rosenzweig, Emmanuel Lévinas and others. These thinkers have taught us that dialogue has a deeply existential, spiritual and ethical meaning.
Dialogue is not only dialogue consisting of words and conversations. Dialogue encompasses all dimensions of our being human; it implies a global, existential dimension and implies the human subject in his or her entirety. Of great importance is especially the field of symbolic interaction. So dialogue is communication in a comprehensive sense; it withstands and criticises our western individualistic way of life, and means ultimately living together and living in solidarity for each other.
Such dialogue is not only essential and necessary for individuals. Dialogue concerns also nations, cultures, religions. Every nation, culture, religion has its riches and its gifts. But it becomes narrow and evolves into ideology when it closes itself and when it absolutises itself. Then the other nation, culture and religion becomes the enemy. The “clash of civilisations” (Huntington) will ensue. Dialogue is the only way to avoid such a disastrous clash. Today dialogue among cultures, religions and churches is a presupposition for peace in the world. It is necessary to pass from antagonism and conflict to a situation where each party recognises and respects the other as a partner.
Pope John Paul II. was influenced by this kind of thinking already as a young Polish professor. In his already quoted message on dialogue between cultures he writes:
With the Second Vatican Council we can add that even biblical revelation has a dialogical structure where God addresses men as his friends (Dei Verbum, 2). In his revelation God takes us seriously, he takes care of us, he turns towards us and communicate with us. This dialogical structure of revelation is the deepest spiritual foundation of inter-human dialogue, inter-human respect, and solidarity.
So instead of the former fruitless disputes which tried to refute each other we meet today in dialogues which accept and respect the other as partner with equal rights, which start from what we have in common and on this common basis we try to understand our differences better and more deeply. In dialogue we want to see our respective traditions with the eyes of the other. Dialogue in this sense moves towards overcoming our mutual teaching of contempt and transforming it into a teaching of mutual respect and appreciation. This does not mean a dialogue at cheap price, which overlooks and underestimates the serious differences between us, differences which often are constitutive for our respective identity. Such a wishy-washy dialogue does not take seriously either one’s own position or the convictions of the other. True dialogue – and here I quote again a Jewish thinker, Emanuel Lévinas – true dialogue respects the other in his or her otherness.
With this kind of authentic dialogue we are not at the end; indeed, we are still at the beginning. And, I dare say, with this kind of dialogue, we will never be at the end; this dialogue will go on and must go on and will link us together for ever.
The most important spiritual and ethical impulse for the new dialogue and for the revolutionary shift of the relations between Jews and Christians can be traced to the horrors of the Holocaust. Indeed, the most important, although somewhat controversial, fruit of the dialogue was the promulgation of We Remember. A Reflection on the Shoah, published by the Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews in March 1998. There had previously been other documents on this painful and dark historical chapter published by national Bishops' Conferences, such as the French, the German, and others. But this was the first universal document of the Catholic Church dedicated to remembering the particularity of Jewish suffering in the Holocaust and the seriousness with which all Catholics must take account of how the evil of the Shoah was possible in Christian lands.
Jewish organisations and institutions welcomed the declaration though they had expected more, criticising some affirmations of an historical and theological nature. I do not believe that this is the place to enter anew into this discussion. My predecessor, Cardinal Edward Cassidy, tried to explain to you some difficult points, and I fully agree with what he said, especially with his affirmation that the text represented the first word but not the last word on this issue.
With of group of historians, made up of three Jewish representatives and three Catholic representatives, the Pontifical Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews and the International Jewish Committee for Interreligious Consultations made a effort to clarify the Holy See’s activities during the Second World War and especially the Holocaust. Unfortunately, this attempt failed due to several reasons and the work was suspended. It is not my intention to charge anybody for this in an one-sided way. Public polemics are of no help at all. What I want to say can be expressed with the official statement I made at the end of August, which I now quote:
I would make the comment also that the title of the above quoted declaration is important: “We Remember”, we will not and we cannot forget; for oblivion would cause new injustice to the victims of an unprecedented atrocity. The memory of this passion in the twentieth century must be preserved in the strict biblical and theological sense of zikkarôn, anamnesis, memoria. A famous – although much disputed – phrase of the Chassidim states: “Oblivion leads to exile, memory is the mystery of salvation.” Indeed, memory touches the depth of both our faiths and our respective understanding of teschuva (conversion, reconciliation, forgiveness). The memory of the tragedy of the Holocaust can lead us to the memory of our deepest spiritual and ethical roots.
How could anyone presume to utter the last word on such a human and cultural catastrophe which raises profound ethical and theological questions, not the least the question of theodicy, that is: How can these horrors be reconciled with the belief in a just and merciful God? How are prayer, faith, and theology still possible after Auschwitz? The answer, which convinces me, is this: We can pray, after Auschwitz, because in Auschwitz there was prayer and because such prayer in Auschwitz helped many of the victims to preserve human dignity and to prevail spiritually and ethically on their tormentors. Thus, the Shoah does not deny but challenges our ethical and spiritual commitment and our efforts to intensify our dialogue and co-operation.
We Remember cannot be the last word. Pope John Paul II himself has been at the forefront of the ongoing dialogue with Jews and Judaism. He has been an example of the Catholic Church’s developing relationship of reconciliation with the Jewish community. This has grown gradually since his visit to Mainz, Germany, on November 17, 1980, when he referred to Jews as “the people of God of the Old Covenant, which has never been revoked”, but truly blossomed with his historic visit to the Synagogue of Rome on April 13, 1986. It was the first visit ever of a pope to a Synagogue.
During that visit to the Synagogue John Paul II stated:
The culminating occasion of the Pope’s dedication to Jewish-Catholic dialogue was his pilgrimage in March 2000 to the Holy Land. At Yad Vashem, in Jerusalem on March 23, 2000, the Holy Father prayed:
Who can forget the image of Pope John Paul II, standing alone at the Western Wall of the Temple, the Kotel, in Jerusalem, as a pilgrim praying to God for forgiveness in a spirit of repentance? The prayer he placed into the wall that day was the same that he prayed during the Liturgy for the First Sunday of Lent, March 12, 2000 at St. Peter’s Basilica:
In Incarnationis mysterium, Bull of Indiction of the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000, the Pope writes about the “purification of memory”:
I offer this brief survey as a reminder of what has been accomplished in terms of the spiritual and ethical commitment in our dialogue. I hope we can celebrate this history of accomplishment together, even as we continue to work to strengthen the bonds of friendship.
At this point I would like to say a few things about the Declaration Dominus Jesus issued by the Roman Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in September 2000. I want to express anew my sincere sadness about the pain the interpretation of this document has caused. As I have said several times: “My friends’ pains are also my pains.”
In line with the Catholic tradition, the Declaration must be read and interpreted – as is the case with any magisterial document– in the larger context of all other official documents and declarations, which are by no means cancelled, revoked or nullified by this document.
The problems raised by this text are not Jewish-Christian related but are linked to the intention of the document. The Declaration mainly deals with inter-religious dialogue. It argues against some newer relativistic and, to some degree, syncretistic theories, which advocate a pluralistic vision of religion and classify both Jewish and Christian religions under the category of “world religions”. It argues against theories that deny the specific identity of Jewish and Christian religions, and do not take into account the distinction between faith as answer to God’s revelation and belief as human search for God and human religious wisdom. Thus, the Declaration defends the specific revelational character of the Hebrew Bible too, which we Christians call the Old Testament, against theories claiming, for example, that the Holy Books of Hinduism are the Old Testament for Hindus.
The document Dominus Jesus does not deal with the question of the theology of Catholic-Jewish relations proclaimed by Nostra Aetate, and of subsequent Church teaching. What the document tries to ‘correct’ is another category, namely the attempts to find a kind of ‘universal theology’ of inter-religious relations, which, in some cases, has led to indifferentism, relativism and syncretism. Against such theories we, both Jews and Christians, are on the same side, on the same boat, if I am allowed to say so; we have to fight, to argue and to bear witness together. Our common self-understanding is at stake.
Dominus Jesus does not state that everybody needs to become a Catholic in order to be saved by God. On the contrary, it declares that God’s grace, which Christians believe is the grace of Jesus Christ, is available to all. Therefore, the Church believes that Judaism, that is, the faithful response of the Jewish people to God’s irrevocable covenant, is salvific for them, because God is faithful to his promises.
This touches the problem of mission towards Jews, a painful question with regard to forced conversion in the past. Dominus Jesus, as other official documents, raises this question again by saying that dialogue is a part of evangelisation. This affirmation stirred Jewish suspicion. But this is a linguistic problem, since the term evangelisation, in official church documents, cannot be understood in the same way as it is commonly interpreted in everyday speech. In strictly theological terminology, evangelisation is a very complex and overall term, and reality. It implies presence and witness, prayer and liturgy, proclamation and catechesis, dialogue and social work. Now, presence and witness, prayer and liturgy, dialogue and social work, which are all part of evangelisation, do not have the goal of increasing the number of Catholics. Thus evangelisation, if understood in its proper and theological meaning, does not imply any attempt of proselytism whatsoever.
In a similar way, the term mission, in its proper sense, refers to conversion from false gods and idols to the true and one God, who revealed himself in salvation history with His elected people. Thus mission, in this strict sense, cannot be used with regard to Jews, who believe in the true and one God. Therefore – and this is characteristic – there exists dialogue but there does not exist any Catholic missionary organisation for Jews.
As we said previously, dialogue is not mere objective information; dialogue involves the whole person. In dialogue I want to communicate something that is important for me and for my life; ultimately in dialogue I want to communicate somewhat from me, what gives meaning to my life, what supports me, what inspires, encourages and also consoles me. Because it is important for me and makes me happy, I want to share it with others so that they too may be blessed. Dialogue, in this deeper sense, implies witness of my deepest faith, a witness which proposes but by no means imposes one’s own faith; on the contrary, it implies respect for every other conviction and every other faith.
So in dialogue Jews give witness of their faith, witness of what supported them in the dark periods of their history and their life, and Christians give account of the hope they have in Jesus Christ. In doing so, both are far away from any kind of proselytism, but both can learn from each other and enrich each other. We both want to share our deepest concerns to an often disoriented world that needs such witness and searches for it. This leads me to my last point.
Our dialogue, the dialogue between Jews and Christians, cannot be a happy but isolated island; it stands in the context of a world that is changing in a breathtaking way in all fields of life. It is no longer the world I experienced in my own childhood and youth, the world of the Second World War and the post- war period. Whenever I spoke to my students about that period, they became bored, their problems were others and we know that their problems are urgent enough.
Certainly, and I repeat, the past must be remembered and our memories have to find a way to be reconciled. We may not and we cannot forget the horrors of the Holocaust; we must remember them as a warning for the future. Both our religions are future-oriented; they are religions of hope. Our memory must be memoria futuri. So our dialogue should not be merely past oriented, but future oriented. Our dialogue should more and more become a contribution for the solution of today’s and tomorrow’s spiritual and ethical problems and challenges. Our so-called post-modern world needs our common witness. Even in the present situation Jews and Christians cannot any longer be enemies, they must become allies.
As Jews and Christians we have so many values in common, values lacking in our world which is often without orientation, but values urgently needed for building a new and a better world. Let us, therefore, not forget our often tragic and sad history but yet learn from it and share what we learn with our younger generation.
In this regard I would like to quote anew the Statement Dabru emet which states:
I could continue with a long list of urgent common problems. In our secularised and often cynical world we have to testify to the sanctity of God’s name as the protection for the sanctity of human life which is created in God’s own image. Jews and Christians can co-operate for the value of life, of the unborn and the living, of family, of solidarity, of forgiveness and reconciliation. In this context I want to mention especially the new problems of bioethics. As we both see the world as God’s creation we can work together against environmental destruction and for the preservation of creation.
In these weeks and days the alliance between Jews, Christians – and I want to add also Muslims who share our sonship in Abraham and our monotheistic faith – is challenged and needed in an extraordinary degree for the promotion of peace and reconciliation, especially here in the Middle East. We must bring to an end the vicious circle of violence and counter-violence which has caused the death of so many innocent people on both sides, which has caused fear, sorrow and despair. Violence cannot solve problems; violence causes ever new problems. Only justice and mutual respect can guarantee a stable and enduring peace. So Jews and Christians should raise their voices to condemn provocative rhetoric, vengeance and violence from every side and express empathy for the loss of lives an all sides. Jerusalem and its sacred sites must be a city and a place of peace for Jews, Muslims and Christians and a sign of hope for peace for all humankind.
To sum up I would like to make two points. Firstly, our dialogue needs intensification; it needs to discover its very existential and religious depth. We need this kind of open and authentic dialogue in a particular way here in the Holy Land and in this City Jerusalem. We do not meet as any community, not as political or economical pressure groups. Each one of us may have his or her personal political and economical interest, we may have our political agenda. But this is not our agenda here; this is not our concern here. We do not meet as any group, we meet, and we undertake dialogue as faith communities. We have to foster our religious relations and promote what constitutes the very spiritual and ethical identity of both our communities.
Secondly, our ethical and spiritual common heritage implies a concern for the ethical and spiritual overall orientation of politics, our commitment to human rights, justice and peace. Thus our dialogue is undertaken not only for our own sake, but for the promotion of our world, in favour of a better world and as a responsibility towards our young people and their hopes. We cannot waste time with useless, superficial, transparently self-promoting public quarrels. We share a rich, common spiritual and ethical patrimony; we have a common responsibility to hand down this patrimony to the next generations and to make it bear fruit for a better world of justice and peace and for the coming of God’s kingdom. Indeed, a high and holy task awaits us.
Together we must give witness to what the prophets of Israel taught us: “Justice will dwell in the wilderness; and in the fertile land, righteousness. Justice will bring about peace; justice will produce calm and security for ever” (Is 32,16s).