14 December 2015

Nostra aetate (6) ... two recent popes

In 1980, addressing a Jewish gathering in Germany, B John Paul II said (I extract this from a long sentence):
" ... dialogue; that is, the meeting between the people of the Old Covenant (never revoked by God, cf Romans 11:29) and that of the New Covenant, is at the same time ..."

In 2013, Pope Francis, in the course of his Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii gaudium, also referred to the Old Covenant as not having been revoked. I commented on this earlier.

First: a few words about status.

Pope John Paul was addressing a meeting of Jews, which makes it improbable that he can be said to have been speaking as Successor of S Peter and formally binding members of the Catholic Church. Moreover, his words were uttered, as Common Law jurists put it, obiter; that is to say, they were a passing remark and not given as a considered judgement upon a disputed  question.

As we saw in an earlier post, Cardinal Raymond Burke, who must be presumed to know about these things, expressed a strong conviction that Evangelii gaudium is not part of the Magisterium.

It would, however, be profoundly unsatisfactory to leave the matter as though we had merely wished to establish that the words quoted lack any binding quality upon the Catholic conscience and thus to avoid a difficulty. It would be to imply that our beloved Holy Father was in contradiction to the teaching of all his predecessors down to very recently. In accordance with the Hermeneutic of Continuity, we should attempt to think intelligently about how his words do express a coherent doctrine in line with the Tradition of all the Ages.

I am not a dogmatic theologian; others can certainly do this better than I can. But I tentatively suggest that one way of approaching this is to distinguish by means of the two adverbs 'Salvifically' and 'Eschatologically'. Salvifically, the Old Covenant is of no effect. It has been 'emptied', in the word used by Pope S Leo the Great and explicitly cited by Pope Pius XII. Of course, God's uncovenanted mercies may extend to individual Jews, just as to individual Moslems or Agnostics who are in invincible ignorance. But Article XVIII of the Church of England speaks for the wholeness of Tradition when it anathematises (anathematizandi sunt) those* who say that "every man shall be saved by the law or sect which he professeth, so that he be diligent to frame his life according to that law, and the light of nature. For Holy Scripture doth set out unto us only the name of Jesus Christ, whereby men must be saved".

Eschatologically, however, S Paul teaches that God still loves the Jews because of 'election', that is, his first covenantal choice; and that his covenant faithfulness with them will, at the End, the Eschaton, be vindicated when they finally come to him through their Lord and Saviour Christ in penitence, faith, and obedience. Benedict XVI changed the Good Friday Prayer for the Jews in his Extraordinary Form so as to pray that God will "illuminate their hearts so that they acknowledge Jesus Christ as the Saviour of all men"; that the God who "wishes all men to be saved and come to the knowledge of the Truth, will grant that as the fullness of the nations (gentium) enters his Church, so all Israel will be saved". Lex orandi lex credendi ... if this is not a solemn doctrinal statement by a very recent pontiff, probably the most learned pope since Benedict XIV, I do not know what is.**

I am certain that John Paul II and Francis were also speaking in this same Eschatological sense because it aligns their words with the clear teaching of S Paul in Romans 11. The fact that others argue otherwise seems to me a grave ecclesial disorder and a very considerable skandalon in the Catholic body. It is to argue for a hermeneutic of rupture and discontinuity. It is to argue that, in a historically very brief period, there has been a complete U-turn in the teaching, indeed, in the basic doctrinal grammar, of the Catholic Church. It is to assume that (on what both sides of this debate seem to agree is an extremely important question) one pope (Francis) flatly contradicted, in a doctrinal matter, what his predecessor (Benedict) had established only half a decade earlier. To say that this is what happened is to attempt a complete subversion of the Petrine Primacy. It is not only to expose all papal utterances to contempt, but also to advance a thesis and to promote a cultural trajectory which will feed the fires of Sedevacantism***.
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* Anabaptists; such as the Matthew Hamant who was burnt at Norwich in 1579. (De Haeretico comburendo was still in use in England as late as 1611 ... Elizabeth Tudor was quite a Traditionalist in this respect).
** This action involved modifying an unbroken liturgical tradition going back (so the great Anglican liturgist Geoffrey Willis demonstrated) to the middle of the fourth century. This is, surely, significant. It must be even more significant that Benedict XVI did not simply extend to the Extraordinary Form the Prayer for the Jews which was already established in the Ordinary Form. It is highly improbable that this (rather obvious) option never occurred to him. Instead, he devised a new form closely in line with the teaching of S Paul in Romans. His action cannot be considered obiter; he performed it after a considerable controversy had arisen, and as a formal and authoritative resolution of that controversy. The fact that his solution was so carefully, even slavishly, biblical would, in an earlier age, have been deemed to add to its force and to resound to his credit, rather than to be an offensive outrage.
    I have seen it suggested, by a professional Catholic ecumenist, that, since Good Friday comes but once a year, and not many people attend the Extraordinary Form, and those who do will not understand the Prayer because nobody knows Latin, the action of Benedict XVI can be disregarded and we can all get on together with the happy work of promoting still further the Two Covenant Error. This view seems to me to express such an extreme and overt contempt for the Magisterial prerogatives of a Sovereign Pontiff, lawfully exercised, that I am, uncharacteristically, lost for words. (Praeteritio there, would you say?)
*** Since I wrote these words, I have read that one Fr Paul Kramer, a transpontine clergyman, is reported to have become sedevacantist because of what Pope Francis wrote. A highly foolish over-reaction; indeed, injurious to his soul. If a Council or a Pope says something which can be taken either as heresy or orthodoxy, a Hermeneutic of Continuity requires one to opt for the latter interpretation (while deploring the ambiguity).

12 comments:

Fr Ray Blake said...

The Old Covenant being 'unrevoked' does not seem to be problem, if we understand it as, being about 'election', 'I will be your God and you will be my people, if you keep my commandments', it is not salvific, it is about 'choseness'. In Christian terms, 'chosen' to point to Jesus.
The New & Eternal Covenant surpasses and fulfils the Old, the 'new' elements are about Salvation, adoption into the Life of Grace by becoming 'Sons'. In Christ the 'good new wine' replaces the water of the Old Testament, the indwelling of the Holy Spirit replaces the external Law written on tablets of stone. We move from being 'servants' to being intimate 'friends'.

The problem is; after Christ what does Old (unrevoked) Covenant effect.

viterbo said...

'lack any binding quality upon the Catholic conscience'; I'd just like to say thank you, and God Bless, for saying 'Catholic conscience.'

while I'm a bit releaved not to have encountered the traditionalism of Elizabeth Tudor, I still pray to encounter a little more of the pre-priest-hole tradition at Mass.

and while many of us may never have an 'attendance' encounter with the Good Friday EF action of Pope Benedict XVI, knowing this 'obscured' truth is no small thing.

bedwere said...

If I understand it correctly, being a member of the Old Covenant is like being a sign post for Rome: you indicate the right direction to others, but you personally never get there.

I am not Spartacus said...

Culture Wars magazine,2008

The simple fact is, John Paul II has never said that his statement, “the Old Covenant, never revoked by God” referred to the Mosaic covenant, and neither did any of his post-Vatican II predecessors. He has clearly stated that his use of the phrase “Old Covenant” was in reference to the Abrahamic covenant and no other. This fact was made clear in the pope’s Sydney speech of November 26, 1986, in which he said: “It will continue to be an explicit and very important part of my mission to repeat and emphasize that our attitude to the Jewish religion should be one of the greatest respect, since the Catholic faith is rooted in the eternal truths contained in the Hebrew Scriptures, and in the irrevocable covenant made with Abraham…for it is the teaching of both the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures that the Jews are beloved of God, who has called them with an irrevocable calling.”

Fr Paul Spilsbury SSC said...

When a Jew observes the requirements of Torah from a motive of obedience to the God of Israel, and trusting in God's faithfulness, then any "effectiveness" of this action, in the sense of meriting grace, can only come in virtue of the salvific work of Christ. Torah is, objectively, fulfilled in Christ, whether or not the devout Jew realises this. Is there any flaw in this argument?

Maiestatis said...

Father Paul, such an action done by a Jew seems indistinguishable from anyone else who obeys his conscience and reverences God in his heart. There seems nothing particularly significant (as far as his salvation is concerned) about his Jewishness. Those rites which might once have been of some use have long been abolished and superseded in Christian rites. He might pray and is likely to use the psalms, but he has nothing of the graces of baptism or the royal priesthood it confers.

To say that any man can be justified simply by following the works of the Law seems to fly very much against Saint Paul's teaching that they are to no avail. God rewards all who seek Him, but that reward will not be to a lifeless covenant but to the living fires of the Church and the fulfilment of all those things in the bosom of the communion of saints.

Jesse said...

I don't know if you are willing for a Broad Churchman like F. D. Maurice to be grafted into the "Patrimony", Father. But in his sermon on the Decalogue in the Communion Office, he had something to say that seems relevant to your series. He transmits the same teaching you have been expounding within the framework of a very positive assessment of the Old Covenant.

Can we suppose that men for so many generations were living merely under a curse, a penalty, a law of death, and that then at once a Gospel of blessing, of freedom, of life, was announced to them? Can we think that there is such an advantage as this notion would imply, in being born some centuries later into the world?

Assuredly the Apostles and Evangelists exact no such belief of us, but discourage it. They assume that their forefathers had a Gospel as well as themselves. They are careful to note that Abraham their first father was not under a law. They do not, however, on that account conclude that those who received the law entered into a lower condition than his, for the Lord God made himself known to them as the Lord merciful and gracious, slow to anger; all His acts towards them were the acts of a deliverer.

He was proclaimed to be so at the opening of the Ten Commandments themselves. The Book of Deuteronomy is throughout declaring a gracious Covenant, an inward law, which men would obey while they trusted in the Lord God, and which would only be turned into a curse when they forgot Him. How that gracious Covenant would be carried out, how that inward law would be fulfilled, and in the meantime what comfort there was in meditating upon it, and in submitting to be governed by it, the Psalmist and Prophets are setting forth in every song, and prayer, and discourse.

The law was a curse, a bondage, a death, only to those who looked to its letters; when they looked up to Him from whom it came, when they thought what He was, and what He had done for their fathers and them, when they hoped for a more complete revelation of Himself and of His relation to them, gloom, dread, weakness, disappeared: they felt that there was light near them, which would grow brighter and brighter, a forgiveness to which they might fly after every sin, a strength which could not fail them in any work or any sorrow.

The revelation of Jesus Christ, so said the Apostles, was the discovery of Him in whom these holy men had trusted, and not been confounded; the Law had come by Moses, the grace and truth of the Law had come by Him; Abraham had seen His day, and was glad. He had been with the people in the wilderness as they journeyed to the promised land, the Angel of the Covenant in whom God's name was, the Word of God who had spoken to the Prophets, and from whom their words came; He had now appeared in the likeness of sinful flesh, had been proclaimed the Son of God at His baptism, had been proved to be so by the resurrection of the dead, that he might make men sons of God in Him, that they might attain to that true estate of spiritual creatures, to which they had always felt they had a title, that they might be accepted in Him, forgiven, justified, that they might be baptized with the Spirit of the Father and Son, and be made after their likeness.

The New Covenant, in this name, the New Covenant, of which the Spirit of God is the seal, and of which the promise is, "I will write my laws in their hearts, and in their minds will I write them," is the fruit of this revelation; the old vanishes away because its meaning has been fulfilled, because it only implies a light which has been manifested, because it does not recognize men as standing to God in the complete relation of sons, and as endued, quickened, regenerated by the Divine Spirit.

The Prayer Book, 3rd edn (London: Clarke, 1966), pp. 130-32 (Sermon XIII)

Deacon Augustine said...

Fr. Hunwicke, thank you for dwelling at some length on this issue.

The original heresy of the Judaisers has resurfaced every few centuries over the last 2,000 years, and I believe this dual covenant theory is simply the latest manifestation of it.

Along with the ubiquitous Origenism to be found at all levels of the Church in our day, it amounts to a Satanic attack on the Person and work of Jesus Christ himself and is a betrayal of the mission He clearly gave to us. Weak-minded men will always find excuses not to obey the commands of Our Lord, and this must be resisted if the Church is to retain any evangelical impetus in a world which follows another master. We only have to think of the first Pope in the face of the Judaisers who had to be rebuked by St. Paul, to realise that successors of Peter are not immune to this temptation.

Kate Edwards said...

Dear Father, thank you so much for your extremely helpful treatment of this issue.

By way of a footnote, I've posted some speculations on St Benedict's ordering of his psalter that may reflect his understanding of this issue, which I think provide another example from tradition of views that are entirely consistent with your exposition:

http://saintsshallarise.blogspot.com.au/2014/01/st-benedicts-psalter-and-election-of.html

Mark of the Vineyard said...

I often wonder if the Judaizing question was one of liturgics, and not so much of a negation of Christ's salvific work. Imagine that - judaizers, the rad trads of the early Church :-D


While we're on the subject of altering liturgical texts because of Jews, it seems that a verse of Victimae Paschali was was altered in the 1570 missal because it was perjorative.

Jacobi said...

I remember we were taught “Completes” rather as Fr Blake uses “Fulfils” . But I think it is the same the same thing and may be more theologically correct .

The Old Testament contains and is to be interpreted as within the New Testament to which all, including Jews, are required to agree!

Nicolas Bellord said...

It is said that the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith approved this document. I wonder whether their contribution was just the bit about it not forming part of the Magisterium which is their way of politely saying this is rubbish.