13 December 2015

Supersession and Sacrifice

There are two omissions which I find trying in the new 'Document' about Catholic-Jewish relations; the second is the failure to discuss the function of Biblical Typology in articulating supersession-in-continuity ... about which there is something in my series of reprinted posts about Nostra aetate. The first omission is the failure of the Document to make any real attempt at historical contextualisation. It is so obsessed with rapprochement between third millennium Catholicism and Pharisaic Rabbinic Synagogue Judaism that it almost seems unaware that, in terms of the 'New Testament Period', Judaism was a Temple-centred, Sacrifice-based, Religion. The Document is so concerned with questions like "Does Christianity supersede Judaism?" and "Will Christians pervert Jews from Jewry?" that it pays little attention to the more down-to-earth question 'Exactly what is supposed to be superseding, or not superseding, exactly what?' I think this is a fairly massive lacuna.

Rabbis, very naturally, are preoccupied with anxieties that we might steal their congregations from them (if only they knew how useless we are at Mission!). The worry "Might these Catholic Priests stop Jews from going to make the appointed animal sacrifices in the Temple at Jerusalem" very rarely (since there hasn't been a Temple in Jerusalem for nearly two thousand years) seems to keep them awake at night ... you wouldn't expect it to! But Catholicism in fact claims to be the fulfilment and hence (in terms of day-by-day, year-by-year, cultic actions) the replacement, of the Temple's Sacrificial system.

Some thirty years ago, the great Ed Sanders, a self-described "liberal modern secularised Protestant", pointed out that the meaning of the Lord's Palm Sunday 'Cleansing of the Temple' is most obviously seen as the replacement of the Temple. And after all, Jesus does refer to himself as the Temple. And in 1989, Rabbi Jacob Neusner, a prolific American writer upon First Century Judaism, offered his own, brilliant, refinement of Sanders' argument. The moneychangers, he explains, were there to facilitate the payment of the Temple tax which "serve[d] through the coming year to provide the public daily whole offerings, in the name of the community". So:

" ... the overturning of the moneychangers' tables represents an act of the rejection of the most important rite of the Israelite cult, the daily whole-offering, and, therefore, a statement that there is a means of atonement other than the daily whole-offering, which now is null. Then what was to take the place of the daily whole-offering? It was to be the rite of the Eucharist: table for table, whole-offering for whole-offering. It therefore seems to me that the correct context in which to read the overturning of the money-changers' tables is not the destruction of the Temple in general, but the institution of the sacrifice of the eucharist, in particular. It further follows that the counterpart of Jesus' negative action in overturning one table must be his affirmative action in establishing or setting up another table, that is to say, I turn to the passion narratives centred upon the Last Supper. That, at any rate, is how, as an outsider to scholarship in this field, I should suggest we read the statement. The negative is that the atonement for sin achieved by the daily whole offering is null, and the positive, that atonement for sin is achieved by the Eucharist: one table overturned, another table set up in place, and both for the same purpose of atonement and expiation of sin."

I have highlighted in blue the words in which Neusner the Jew expresses his discernment of how the Eucharistic Sacrifice ordained by Jesus of Nazareth was intended to supersede the Temple Sacrificial system.

I don't think we Catholics should be grabbing or claiming to supersede the synagogue-based Rabbinic Judaism of the last nineteen centuries. That would be sheer theft. The rabbis invented it; how could we possibly have any right to it? But the Temple with its system was the construct 'in possession' at the moment at which they and we, two competing heirs of Second Temple Judaism, began to go our two separate ways. What they took with them on their journey is for them to say; what we took on ours was the Daily Sacrifice of the Lamb. Deus qui legalium differentiam hostiarum unius sacrificii perfectione sanxisti ...

The Temple hosted the private sacrifices of individuals and families between the Morning and Evening Sacrifices of the People of God. I can think of nothing more like this in spirit as well as in sacramental reality than a great Catholic church in the Medieval or Baroque period. At the High Altar you see the formal prescribed ritual of the Act of Immolation at the public Capitular Mass, a rite not performed either to teach or to impress but simply as the Sacrifice done because the LORD who is Torah Incarnate so prescribed. And at the side altars, you hear the murmur of the private Masses laying before YHWH the private intentions of individuals and families; all those oblations - One Oblation, the One Lamb.

Yes; the rabbis are more than entitled to undisturbed possession of their own lawful property. All we claim is the propitiatory Oblation which sums up and fulfills and enfolds and transcends all the Temple Sacrifices ... as well as the thusia typike of Our Patriarch Abraham ... and the munera, 'dutiful offerings', of God's Righteous Servant Abel at the dawn of time. If they have no wish to take all that from us, what is there for us both to squabble about?

10 comments:

Pastor in Monte said...

Thank you; that's very helpful. I had never thought of interpreting the cleansing of the Temple in that way. I can appreciate what our beloved Pope Benedict saw in Rabbi Neussner.

Mike Wilson said...

Fantastic article; I have never seen this interpretation of the cleansing of the Temple by Our Lord. It makes perfect sense.
Thank you Father.

Mike Wilson said...

I have never seen any interpretation of the cleansing of the Temple that brings out this profound significance.
Thank you Father.

Matthew Roth said...

His quotation of Neusner on Jesus adding himself to the Law (in Jesus of Nazareth) is sublime.

Murray said...

To come at it from another direction, how in earth could the Catholic Church be guilty of superseding a religion (Pharasaic Rabbinic Synagogue Judaism) that, in many important respects, is younger than it?

Don Camillo SSC said...

All this and much more is expounded in Bishop Tom Wright's series on Christian Origins and the Idea of God. I recommend it to you, especially in this context the second volume, Jesus and the Victory of God.

Leroy and Kari Huizenga said...

Ed Sanders was one of my teachers at Duke, and it's that sort of perspective on Judaism that eventually led me to Catholicism. The Neusner quote made its way into my dissertation on Jesus as the New Isaac...

geneticallycatholic said...

Fr. Robert P. Imbelli, posted an article on 'The Catholic Thing' blog (today, Dec 13,2015) that, in my opinion, has some relevant passages to the series you are discussing. His post is entitled “Christ Brings All Newness”.

I've parsed together excerpts from his post- see my next paragraph. To me, this refutes the Two Covenant Theory, because, as quoted from the excerpts below "for Irenaeus, it is essential to keep Creator and Redeemer, old covenant and new, together". Note too, that thinking goes back to the early Church, only one or two generations after “John who had seen the Lord”

“Though Irenaeus died about 202 AD (possibly martyred) as bishop of Lyons in Gaul (modern France), he was originally from Smyrna in Asia Minor. He himself tells us that, as a youth, he sat at the feet of Polycarp, the venerable bishop of Smyrna, who himself had known “John who had seen the Lord.” Thus Irenaeus represents in his person and writings the apostolic tradition of the Churches of both East and West. ...In the 1960s and 70s, words quoted from Irenaeus often appeared anonymously on felt banners in churches. The intent seemed to be to coax those attending Mass to “feel good” about themselves. Hence the banners proclaimed: “The Glory of God is Man Fully Alive!” (“Gloria enim Dei vivens homo.”) You may still come upon the sentiment today, rendered now, of course, in appropriately inclusive language. In those less than halcyon years, however, I don’t recall ever having seen the second part of Irenaeus’s sentence. Perhaps it did not fit the flimsy banners or the anthropocentric Zeitgeist. In any case, the second part, the climax of the affirmation, reads: “but the life of man is the vision of God” (“Vita autem hominis visio Dei.”) The human person can only find true fulfillment in union with its Creator and Redeemer. ...For Irenaeus, it is essential to keep Creator and Redeemer, old covenant and new, together.”

Священник села said...

Dear Father John, your small but perfect rejoinder to the anti-supersessionists filled me with joy and delight, because of course - of course!- the patristic and churchly liturgical tradition of supersessionist understanding is precisely and exclusively to do with the Temple and sacrifice. Well, perhaps with Law too. Be that as it may with exception of Margaret Barker, probably all Protestants, and especially Protestant ecumenists and their fellow travellers simply have no idea... Poor two-dimesional, historically and liturgically challenged moderns. They have never felt the shiver down the spine that comes at Tantum ergo sacramentum...

Tommy said...

Are there any good books on this? I have a cousin who is coming into the Church, but be once practiced orthodox Rabbinic Judaism for a few months and may appreciate this discussion.