17 December 2015

George Weigel ... and Unresolved Juxtapositions

So some American neocon called George Weigel has assured us that 'supersessionism' is a heresy. A bit lordly; who is this inquisitorial individual that he has the competence to tell us that we are heretics? The Vatican Document on Catholic-Jewish relations which I have been discussing itself informs us that supersessionism was the teaching of many of the Fathers and of the medieval, not to say post-medieval, Catholic world. And the Document itself describes itself as non-Magisterial, non-doctrinal. But, if my memory serves me, this is the same Weigel who wrote a hagiographical extravaganza about S John Paul II, in which just about the only criticism he could bring himself to make is that the Holy Pontiff was insufficiently enthusiastic about neocon- and zionist- backed military adventures in the Middle East. And he's a tough man, Weigel, on anybody who doesn't accept his own favoured option with regard to the horns of the dilemma left to us by Dignitatis humanae (he had his reservations about rapprochement with the SSPX).

Most people who are into this sort of stuff know that the text of Dignitatis humanae of Vatican II began by saying that it changed nothing of the Church's previous doctrine about Religious Liberty; and then went on to give teaching that most people (both those who liked it and those who disliked it) thought contradicted that earlier Magisterium. And no hermeneutic was offered to guide anybody who wanted to fit these apparent polar contradictions into a unity.

My own instinct is that this is an unhelpful way of carrying on. But I accept that disagreement is possible here. Perhaps such teaching can helpfully impel theological practictioners towards a valuable new synthesis. I'm open to persuasion. You convince me.

The Vatican discussion Document on Catholicism and Judaism plays the same game. It asserts with ringing clarity that all men need Jesus for Salvation, and repudiates the idea that there can be two covenants, one for Jews and one for Gentiles. Those who put the Document together understand the fundamental grammar of the Christian Faith well enough for this. But they then place beside it the idea that God's covenant with Israel is not revoked. Realising the prima facie contradiction, they fall back upon invoking Divine Mystery.

S Paul, also, believed in both of these truths. But he did not leave the matter dangling between unresolved polarities. For him
(1) Israel is God's Olive Tree.
(2) When the Messiah came, most of Israel did not believe, while a few did.
(3) This is within the familiar Old Testament theme of the small Faithful Remnant.
(4) So the unbelieving Jewish branches are broken off the Olive Tree and thrown aside.
(5) And wild olive branches, believing Gentiles, are grafted into the old stem in their place.
(6) But at the End, when the fulness of the Gentiles has accepted God's offer, then the broken off branches, moved by jealousy at this Gentile success, will turn to God.
(7) And will be grafted back in.
(8) So that God will, indeed, have been true to his Covenantal promises to Israel.

What this means is that in the Now, the Age between Incarnation and the End, unbelieving Jews are in a broken-off state; not part of God's Olive Tree. God has certainly not revoked his Covenant; but unbelieving Jews have walked away from it and their privileges are occupied by the abiding faithful covenantal community composed of the Faithful Jewish Remnant and of Gentiles who by that same Faith have joined them; videlicet the Catholic Church. [In other words, the Vatican Document deftly hides (4) out of view like the hired conjuror at a children's party, and, having distracted you from it by sleight of hand, loudly trumpets a version of (8) which has been denuded of the logical and biblical substructure given in (2), (3), (4), (5), (6), and (7). This is the sort of jiggery pokery you always end up being served in 'ecumenical' documents. And it is the sort of slipshod game played by Weigel in his article.]

I imagine that the embarrassing conclusion I have printed above in red is the practical reason why the Vatican Document (not to mention Weigel) steers clear of S Paul's perfectly logical construction with all the fastidiousness of your maiden aunt giving a wide berth to a hippy orgy.

Or perhaps your maiden aunts are all liberated ladies.


Elizabeth said...

I make it a firm habit to never read anything written by George Weigel. Never.

Unknown said...

For my own clairty, could you please expand the phrase "Faithful Jewish Remnant" in your conclusion in red. What is meant by, and what does it mean to be (part of?) the "Faithful Jewish Remanant"? With thanks.

Andreas Meszaros said...

Fr. Hunwicke:

Very useful reading in this regard is St. Jerome’s letter 21 (ad Damasum de duobus filiis).

Paul Jaminet said...

But ... God's covenant with the Jews made worldly promises (prosperity, descendants) whereas the covenant brought by Jesus to all makes promises regarding the world to come. Surely God can fulfill his worldly promises to faithful Jews while maintaining the Christian covenant as well. Where is the conflict?

mark wauck said...

While I have serious reservations about aspects of Ratzinger's thought, I believe some of his remarks regarding this whole issue may be helpful.

If I recall his thinking, Ratzinger maintains that "covenant" should be understood as a "call," and that the relationship between ancient Israel/Judaism is one of continuity: Christian faith does indeed arise from Israel, but faith in Jesus is indeed a new factor. You can see this in Paul, I think: Paul maintains that those who are Israel--not matter their ethnic origin, Jew or Gentile--are so in virtue of faith, like their spiritual father Abraham who believed. But that faith now faces a new factor, the call to faith in Jesus the Christ, crucified yet risen. It follows that covenantal membership requires a response--it is not a matter of physical ancestry or of DNA (think: raising up children of God from stones; not all are Israel who are of Israel), nor does God deal (for purposes of faith) with aggregates of people but with individuals. Those who respond in faith, who believe in Jesus, are part of that olive tree that is Israel/Church.

And so Paul says at Romans 11:29 "the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable." Does this mean, literally, as Paul says at Romans 11:26, that "all Israel will be saved?" Is this a prediction that all Jews will come to belief in Jesus? What about those who die in the interim? Recall that God respects our freedom--it is part of our God-created nature--and that he deals with individuals for these purposes. Further, hopeful rhetoric aside, Paul explicitly recognizes this difficulty and so points out the obvious condition at Romans 11:23 "And even those of Israel, if they do not persist in unbelief (ἐὰν μὴ ἐπιμείνωσιν τῇ ἀπιστίᾳ), will be grafted in." But some no doubt will persist in unbelief, just as some will persist in crying 'Lord, lord!' without really believing what crying upon the Lord entails.

So, in Ratzingerian terms--which are really Pauline terms--we have covenant as call and we have continuity based in faith, but with the new element: God's self revelation in Jesus to gather in all who believe into one people, to tear down the dividing wall (Eph. 2:14-18), for we all have sinned (Rom. 3:23-24).

By the way, the late Avery Dulles wrote an interesting article on this: The Covenant With Israel.

Titus said...

Is it even as convoluted as that? God promised the Jews a redeemer and an everlasting kingdom, and then He gave it to them. The fact that some Jews went on about their business as if He hadn't doesn't change the fact, surely? Isn't the old covenant what a solicitor would term "discharged by performance"? Why is the eschatological analysis necessary?

Unknown said...

Easy peasy, Father; Me! Me! I know that answer to this one:

1) Any part of a Church document, witness, or address that does not specifically teach the Faith (aka Sacred Tradition, the living and active word, our saving faith, the treasure gifted from the Holy Ghost etc) is not part of the magisterial witness to the Faith, being solely a personally or corporately approved opinion, policy, or guide to something other than the Faith (a good deal of Church documents are in fact fill with such opinions, policies etc, not witnessing doctrinally to the Faith [and not only at VatII]); n.b. that it is not of magisterial, aka teaching, authority does not mean it is not important, influential, or instructive (even in witness to the Faith). 2) Dignitatis humani specifically addressed two different aspects of 'religious freedom', i) the liberty of the Church's Faith (to witness Sacred Tradition), and ii) freedom from civil coercion (where moral reason [including the Church's Faith] is not affronted); under i) it asserts the right to define, in matters of religion, what properly holds under ii) .. in so far as the Faith witnesses to it; and that ii) does not refer to a witness to the Faith at all, which remains intact, but to the manner in which the Sword - civil authority - may be justly brought to bear upon matters of religion (in so far as this does not conflict with the Faith [and its witness] et al, etc). 3) This is the beautifully complex simplicity of Augustine's politics in The City of God (Contra Litteras Petiliani, et al) set out in far from glowing clarity; indeed muddied and willfully made murky to intrude a specific (if nowhere defined) understanding of the term 'conscience' (save only that whenever used, whatever it is taken to be, it is always taken to be binding .. in some way, shape or form [chiefly that of the well-formed conscience learned by moral reason from the Faith, sic]).

'In the formation of their consciences, the Christian faithful ought carefully to attend to the sacred and certain doctrine of the Church.' Diginitatis humani, 14 (cf. Pius XII, radio message, March 23, 1952).

See, easy peasy. Now if you ask me what it actually 'means' in terms of its expected effects, there I am stumped. I suspect the Fathers of the Council set out to snooker those hopeful of having a clear doctrine set forth (sorry for the sporting terms in so serious a matter); hence we are either thrown back on looking at what the Church actually teaches, and apply this (with a gracious nod to the pastoral guidance) or impelled to cast aside all and everything and create something new (the better to suit ourselves and the itching ears of those eager to hear something new)

I leave you - and you dear reader - to decide which course we ought to follow in the Faith, and, indeed, which was the course actually pursued by the vast majority (of punters).


Scott Woltze said...

When I was in prison, Weigel helped convert me to neoconservatism, though not to the Catholic faith. As a prison librarian, I had sent out pleas to US think tanks begging for free books and literature. He sent me a kind response along with several books and pamphlets. I was, and am, grateful. I also liked what I read--especially all of the references to an academic journal "The Public Interest" (the neo-con flagship publication). When I got out of prison, I sat in a college library and devoured every past issue I could find. Adam Smith and David Hume became my heroes, and the focus of my doctoral dissertation. The dissertation was interrupted by a conversion. Deo gratias!

Make of it what you will.

Barona said...

Thank-you Father for this beautifully articulated and concise exposition of the contradiction in the Vatican Document - and by extension - those her perpetuate its folly. Weigel has long promoted a brand of liberal Catholicism.


Anonymous said...

Thank you Father, your explanation is very clear and helpful; qualities I might have hoped to find in a document issued by the Vatican!

@Titus: In the light of Fr. Hunwicke's exposition, I think we might say that "the performance" is not over yet. The drama of redemption is still being played out on the world stage and the separated Jews will indeed come to accept their (and now our) Christ before the final curtain falls. Will that be every individual of the Jewish race? Probably not, but St. Paul's prophecy does seem to indicate some corporate and institutional reconciliation that will preserve and respect all that is authentically and uniquely Jewish in their tradition while still demanding explicit faith in Christ and his Church - a bit like The Ordinariate perhaps ...

Anonymous said...

The "unbelieving Jews" who, today, reject Christ, still believe, however, in the Old Testament and the God of Israel.
Indeed, they would argue that it's precisely for reasons of that belief that they do reject Christ and His Church.
Since THAT Jewish belief has always been understood to be de fide - albeit it a faith that finds its fulfillment in the coming of Christ - it seems somehow inexact to describe the Jews who accept the Old Covenant but not the New as faithless "unbelievers".

St Paul's 'veil' image is surely helpful here as a way of showing how their faith is incomplete but not absent. The fulness of the truth of Christ has been veiled from them. (I leave it up to God's judgement the extent to which each Jewish person does or does not co-operate with the grace that God offers them to believe in Jesus, and thus the extent to which they veil their own sight.)

I notice that the document only tangentially addresses the fact that this veiled faith is not (nor can it be) properly speaking salvific. Only (faith in) Christ saves.... Indeed, the 'means of salvation' of post-Christian, post-Temple Judaism are unclear, even for the Jews themselves.

The 'incompleteness' idea should (and indeed has) inform the Church's positioning in relation to the Jews: they are included if memory serves me correctly, under the Vatican department for "ecumenical relations", rather than for "inter-religious dialogue". A recognition of the fact that their faith is related to our own in a unique way.

All the other remarks you make, Father, are entirely pertinent: of course we should announce the Good News of Christ to all, including the Jews. And your resumption of St Paul's teaching is quite accurate. So this latest document is another proof of the muddle, confusion and, well, quasi-Anglican woolly thinking, that is becoming a hallmark of this pontificate. Alas.


Schutz said...

I would be a little less hasty in making hard conclusions about what even Paul calls "a great mystery". I don't know if we can assume that Paul's words in Romans are his final conclusion on the matter, or an initial working through if the issues. What can be said is that the situation of Israel and the Chirch was still being worked out when Paul wrote his letters. The temple n Jerusalem was still standing. The Jewish Wars were yet to take place. Now, two thousand years later, we are in a very different relationship with the Jewish people once again. Since the systematic murder of 50% of the worlds Jews only 70 years ago by a Christian nation, we have a debt of responsibility to read our scripture and tradition afresh with regard to the teaching of supersessionism.

Muv said...

The hippy logic of the Vatican document suggests that when Our Lady appeared to Alphonse Ratisbonne it couldn't possibly have been to bring about his conversion or anybody else's, let alone the conversion of Jews; she just nipped down on a social call for a spot of dialogue of the unspoken sort, a brief private moment of mutual understanding that had no need to go any further.

Deacon Augustine said...

"Since the systematic murder of 50% of the worlds Jews only 70 years ago by a Christian nation, we have a debt of responsibility to read our scripture and tradition afresh with regard to the teaching of supersessionism."

Let me get that straight...the Apostolic witness of the NT clearly teaches supersessionism, the Fathers of the Church taught supersessionism, every Pope until Pius XII laboured under the belief of supersessionism, but we now have to chuck that all out because of something evil which happened to a lot of Jews just 70 years ago?

If that isn't the perfect illustration of the modernist synthesis of all heresies, I don't know what is. Why don't we chuck out the Virgin birth too because its offensive to today's feminists, or chuck out the Resurrection because its offensive to today's necrophiliacs?

Quite apart from your egregious identification of National Socialism with a "Christian nation" how, in the real world, is an event that took place circa A.D. 1944 supposed to affect what happened in A.D. 33? This is precisely the kind of sentimental, politically correct raving which infests "ecumenism" and all its illegitimate offspring - vide Weigel and the craven muppets who produced the document in question. Surely there really is no business like Shoah business.

Anonymous said...

Yummmmy! Numbered sentences! And then
just quoting the numbers in the rest
of the argument! That's so cute!

(I used to be a C++ programmer, and now
I like serious theological debates, with
plenty of references and numbered
sentences. Sorry.)

Sue Sims said...

Schutz: unless you're suggesting (which seems unlikely) that the Shoah was carried out because the perpetrators were all devout supersessionists who set up the death camps because the only thing to do with superseded Jews is to murder them, the subordinate clause in your final sentence is irrelevant.

(I'm Jewish, by the way, and was converted to the Catholic faith 17 years ago.)

ChrisB said...

Too bad you haven't got an editor Stefan...you never should have hit send...your post makes it seem you are incapable of "serious theological debate."

Your post makes it seem you could not muster a "serious theological debate."

Amateur Brain Surgeon said...

A lot of embarrassing claims could have been avoided had seminary texts (as linked to below) not had applied to them the sacramental of defenestration in the 1960s

See pages 28-30


Look, there is no Temple, Priesthood, or Animal Sacrifices and the Judaism our Hierarchy has reached a political accommodation with (for whatever reasons existing) is not Old Testament Judaism, it is Rabbinical Judaism which is based in the Talmud, not the Torah.

As for Saint Paul, what he wrote was, in essence, what The Holy Ghost desired be written so it really isn't a question of whether or not Saint Paul his own self was thinking out loud when he wrote what he wrote or that he was just sort of kicking things around