The Roman Catholic Church, the Jewish People, and ZIonism – Part Four

Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel meeting with Cardinal Bea, part of the process leading to the drafing of Nostra Aetate

Here we continue with our retrospective on the papacy of John Paul II, in which he sought to unpack and implement the gains for Catholic Jewish relations found in Nostra Aetate.  The categories for examining Paul’s papacy are borrowed from Eugene Fisher.

8. A Vision for the Future: A Call for Joint Action and Witness in History.

I differ in my perspective from Christians on the left who take a dual covenant position and hold that Yeshua believers owe nothing to the Jewish people except gratitude, respect, and leaving them alone. Instead I believe that both Messianic Jews and Christians, while owing respect and gratitude, ought also to embody and bear witness to who Yeshua is both for the Church and for Israel, but this is a different Yeshua than is often offered, as he is the One in whom God’s promises and destiny for Israel continue to move forward to their consummation.  This is contrary to those like N.T. Wright an Scott McKnight who see Israel’s destiny as collapsed into Yeshua, subsumed in him, and actually transferred from a “failing Israel” into a winning Christ. I differ with those on the right with those who restrict their view of mission to evangelistic activity and who view the Jewish people as being nothing more than target of this kind of mission, but in no sense partners in serving the missio dei. On the contrary, the mission of God is far  broader than delivering a message. It is also an invitation to engage with Him in “uniting all things in Christ,” bringing nearer that day when the wolf will lie down with the lamb, embodying and hastening that unity between Israel and the Church currently existing in a state of schism destined to be healed. Anything that hastens or foreshadows that healing is part of God’s mission for all concerned.

None of this is foreign to John Paul II.  “Central to the Pope’s vision of the Christian-Jewish relationship is the hope that it offers for joint social action and witness to the One God and the reality of the Kingdom of God as the defining point of human history.”

Eugene Fisher reminds us that “such joint action, for the Pope, is more than simple ‘good neighborliness.’  It is a fulfillment of what is essential to the mission of both Judaism and Christianity.”  John Paul II in fact anticipates the core and language of Converging Destinies paradigm: “Through different but finally convergent ways we will be able to reach, with the help of the Lord, who has never ceased to love his people (Rom. 11:1), true brotherhood in reconciliation and respect and to contribute to a full implementation of God’s plan in history.”  The Converging Destinies paradigm (which is a paradigm I outline and explore in a forthcoming book) expresses both the diversity and unity of the Church and Israel in service of “a full implementation of God’s plan in history,” the mission of God.[1] And as mentioned, the Pope anticipates this in a fashion (although not in the shape that I develop) in his own thought and language.

9. Papal Encyclicals – Throughout his encyclicals, John Paul II sought “to integrate into his overall teachings the insights he . . . derived from his contacts with Jewish leaders and his continuing meditation upon the meaning of Jewish tradition for Catholic thought.”[1] A few highlights from these documents help illustrate the fecundity of his theological imagination and its transformational substance.

In his very first encyclical, Redemptor Hominis, Section 6, John Paul speaks first of the imperative to pursue unity among the various Christian churches, something to be sought “sincerely, perseveringly, humbly and also courageously.”[2]

In Section 11, “The Mystery of Christ as the Basis of the Church’s Mission and of Christianity,” he delves more deeply into what may be learned from other religions, and especially from Judaism, speaking of Nostra Aetate against the background of earlier Church teachings. He says:

The Fathers of the Church rightly saw in the various religions as it were so many reflections of the one truth, “seeds of the Word” attesting that, though the routes taken may be different, there is but a single goal to which is directed the deepest aspiration of the human spirit as expressed in its quest for God and also in its quest, through its tending towards God, for the full dimension of its humanity, or in other words for the full meaning of human life. The Council gave particular attention to the Jewish religion, recalling the great spiritual heritage common to Christians and Jews.

These are generous words, highlighting and granting dignity to the spiritual longing and striving of all humankind, that all are reflections of the one truth, ‘seeds of the Word,’ with all, regardless of their various routes taken, seeking God and the full meaning of human life.  (He does not state to what extent these other religions find God apart from the grace which the Church offers).  What is especially interesting is how he accords special status to Judaism, noting “the great spiritual heritage common to Christians and Jews.”

He goes on to highlight how it is in Christ that man finds both God and himself. This being the case, he calls Christians of all stripes to unite in the mission of both discovering and sharing the truth of God and of humanity as it is revealed in Christ who is also “the mystery hidden from the ages.”  Yet he acknowledges that this will take work. Here then he is speaking of one of those schisms that is destined to be healed, that between the churches, with the focal point of unity being  “Jesus Christ [who] is the stable principle and fixed center of the mission that God himself has entrusted to man. We must all share in this mission and concentrate all our forces on it, since it is more necessary than ever for modern mankind.”   Within the context of courageous theological imagination, his papacy sought to foster this unification, both unity among the churches and unity with other religions, most especially with Judaism, with which the Church shares a unique affinity.

It seems that wherever one dips in John Paul’s writings, one finds newness, boldness, theological depth, and a new vision of possibilities of union, both with Christian churches, and with the people of Israel.

To be continued . . .




[1] Fisher, “Commentary,” xxxix.

[2] All quotations from Pope John Paul II, Redemptor Hominis,  n.p. [cited 13 February 2012]. Online

[3] These are not the only documents evidencing this disconnect between a quest for newness generally unintentionally perpetuating older paradigms. Lumen Gentium and the Catechism are used here as examples of the problem.

[4] Lumen Gentium, paragraph 18.


[1] Fisher, “Commentary,” xxxvii-xxxviii

About Stuart Dauermann

The blog of Rabbi Dr. Stuart Dauermann, teacher, mentor, radio talk show host, denizen of Los Angeles, and a visionary with a long career in Messianic Jewish activism. You can hear Rabbi Dauermann as he hosts Shalom Talk, a weekly radio show, and even listen online at Rabbi Dauermann spends time traveling nationally and internationally, and throughout the year is in Israel as a Scholar in Residence at the MJTI Jerusalem Center. He has plenty to say about Jewish-Christian relations, the need for shalom in the world, and the agenda of Messiah, the Son of David.
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