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Francis, in the course of his Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii gaudium, also referred to the Old Covenant as not having been revoked.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***.
* 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 to have been done 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).