Witnessing to Truth

Nostra Aetate and the New Evangelization

Jesus Teaches in the Synagogue, by James Tissot (1896-1902).

The Vatican II declaration Nostra Aetate revolutionized the Catholic Church’s relations with non-Christian religions, especially Judaism. The fourth part of this short declaration marked a decisive shift in Catholic-Jewish relations, repudiating what French Jewish historian, Jules Isaac, once called an age-old “teaching of contempt.”1 In the many centuries that preceded Nostra Aetate, many Christians had branded Jews as Christ killers, and followers of a dead, legalistic religion. Since the once chosen people had rejected Christ, the covenant with the Jews had been broken and superseded by the covenant with Christians. But in Nostra Aetate, the assembled Catholic bishops declared that the Jewish people were neither guilty of deicide nor rejected by God, implicitly recognizing that the Jewish covenant remained intact.

This declaration paralleled liturgical reforms, including the abrogation of the Good Friday prayer for the conversion of the “unbelieving Jews.” Nostra Aetate also created an imperative for ensuring that catechesis no longer denigrated Jews, and for establishing a Catholic-Jewish dialogue grounded in mutual respect. Interfaith dialogue received a special impetus during the pontificate of Saint John Paul II, who, as a young bishop, had participated in Vatican II. In his apostolic letter, Novo Millennio Inuente (2000), John Paul refers to “the great challenge of interreligious dialogue to which we shall be committed in the new millennium, in fidelity to the teachings of the Second Vatican Council.”2

Novo Millennio Inuente reiterates a call to the New Evangelization and admonishes Catholics to remember both their own sins, and those of their forefathers. Emphasizing the need for Christian atonement in the Jubilee Year, John Paul urges the faithful to “purify our vision for the contemplation of the mystery” of the Church’s relationship with the world. A Church rooted in the temporal must “recall the infidelities of so many of its children in the course of history, infidelities which cast a shadow over her countenance as the Bride of Christ.” In short, evangelization can only be pursued in the light of truth, an “examination of conscience.”3 This includes confronting painful aspects of the past, notably, centuries of anti-Judaism and the horror of the Holocaust.

The successors of John Paul II have continued to make what once would have been extraordinary gestures of reconciliation to those he called our “elder brothers.”4 Both pontiffs have recognized an enduring Jewish covenantal relationship with God, and continually reaffirmed the reconciliatory declarations of Vatican II. In 2009, Benedict described Nostra Aetate as “a milestone in the journey towards reconciliation (that) clearly outlined the principles that have governed the Church’s approach to Christian-Jewish relations ever since.”5 The following year, Jorge Cardinal Bergoglio, the future Pope Francis, stated: “The Church officially recognizes that the People of Israel continue to be the Chosen People. Nowhere does it say, ‘You lost the game, now it’s our turn.’ (…) That, I think is the most courageous thing from Vatican II on the subject.”6 Nostra Aetate’s repudiation of anti-Judaism continues to resonate in papal pronouncements on how the Church should speak to, and about, Jews.

At the same time, Benedict, and in turn Francis, have continued to proclaim what is now a 30-year call to the New Evangelization. These successive pontiffs have upheld what John Paul called the “urgency of missionary evangelization” based on the “permanent validity of the Church’s missionary mandate.”7 But how does this mandate affect the relations between Catholics and Jews that have gradually improved since 1965? Is acknowledging and atoning for the truth of a historically troubled relationship compatible with witnessing to the truth of the Catholic faith? Are Jews to be the striking exception to the missionary focus of the New Evangelization? And if so, what does this say about the salvation of Jews and Christians alike? Understanding historical trajectories, especially changes in Catholic attitudes toward Jews and Judaism over the last half century, can help put these questions into context.

The last half century of Catholic-Jewish dialogue and reconciliation comprises a very small part of a much longer and a less harmonious relationship. Within a few decades after the Crucifixion, the Church and the Synagogue parted ways; and by the end of the third century, the Adversus Judaeos tradition of Christian anti-Judaism had been established. In the late fourth century, St. John Chrysostom’s Homilies against the Jews helped set the tone for centuries of denigration of Jews and Judaism. Chrysostom referred to Jewish religious observance as an abomination: “The wicked and unclean fast of the Jews is now at our doors. Though it is a fast, do not wonder that I have called it unclean. What is done contrary to God’s purpose, be it sacrifice or fast, is the most abominable of all things.”8 In the context of Chrysostom’s time, this invective reflected, not only contempt for Judaism, but a fear that this older covenantal faith still could attract “Judaizers” among the Christian faithful.

Medieval anti-Judaism was a necessary, if not sufficient, prerequisite for the modern anti-Semitism that led to the Holocaust. During the Middle Ages, the Jews, considered to be cursed for the murder of Christ, suffered many forms of discrimination. The Wandering Jew was resented as a moneylender, and depicted as a poisoner of wells. But Christian prejudice did have limits. In the second century, the Church rejected Marcion’s call to de-Judaize the faith by excising the Old Testament from the canon. A little over two centuries later, St. Augustine set a somewhat better example, arguing that the Jews were a witness people, whose lives should be spared, whose abjection fulfilled Old Testament prophecies, and whose eventual conversion would herald the Second Coming.9

In the medieval period, though expulsions of Jews, and outbreaks of violence, were a continual threat, popes admonished the faithful not to force Jews to convert to Christianity (not always with success), and in some cases, even sought to dismantle popular prejudices. The 13th century Pope Gregory X rejected as both “silly” and “miserable” the blood libel charge.10 This widespread belief alleged that in order to use their blood to prepare Passover matzos, Jews kidnapped and murdered Christian children. But almost three centuries later, the Protestant reformer Martin Luther still could rail against Jews as children of the Devil, and demand that their synagogues be burnedominous rhetoric in an emerging German nation. Modern racist anti-Semitism, shorn of many of its religious trappings, no longer contained the escape clause of Jewish redemption through Christian conversion. What the Nazis called the Eternal Jew would continue to crucify Gentiles in the modern world until physically eliminated, once and for all.

As Benedict XVI stated in his 2005 Christmas Address, Vatican II’s collected documents should be read within a “hermeneutic of reform,” rather than “discontinuity and rupture.”11 Nonetheless, Nostra Aetate also represented a decisive break with the past. In the words of theologian Gregory Baum, a peritus, or expert, at the Council: “The Church’s recognition of the spiritual status of the Jewish people is the most dramatic example of a doctrinal turnabout in the age-old ‘magisterium ordinarium’ to occur at the Council.”12 As Jacques Maritain had urged two decades earlier, the Church now revisited and embraced St. Paul’s theology of the “mystery of Israel.”13

Nostra Aetate drew on the Letter to the Romans in proclaiming that “the Jews remain most dear to God because of their fathers, for he does not repent of the gifts he makes, nor of the calls he issues” (Rom 11: 27-28).14 The drafters of this document included Msgr. John Oesterreicher, a convert from Judaism. He numbered among several “border transgressors” (to quote historian John Connelly) who helped the Church repudiate centuries of anti-Judaism.15 Nostra Aetate included the admonition that “Jews should not be presented as repudiated or cursed by God, as if such views followed from the holy Scriptures.”16 The declaration also deplored, though it did not condemn, anti-Semitism.

Innovation is not always the product of youth, for we can see in this ground-breaking declaration the work of three octogenarians. Succeeding Pope Pius XII in 1958, John XXIII, who called this unexpected ecumenical council, had facilitated the rescue of Jews during the war. Jules Isaac, the French Jewish historian who had lost his family at Auschwitz, implored the pope in a 1960 audience to include the Jewish question on the agenda. Cardinal Augustin Bea, the president of the Secretariat for Promoting Christian Unity, and officially responsible for ecumenism, received from the pope the assignment of drafting the Jewish document, in part to circumvent opposition within the Roman Curia. Only Bea lived to see the declaration promulgated in its final form in 1965.17 In the interim, the declaration itself almost died.

Nostra Aetate went through several drafts, sparked worldwide controversy, and was nearly scrapped altogether. Muslim and Christian leaders from the Middle East protested against what they saw as the political ramifications of a pro-Jewish statement by the Church. The new Pope Paul VI allowed members of the Curia to revise the document to include a reiteration of the hope for the “union of the Jewish people with the Church” which, in turn, provoked Jewish outrage. The final compromise draft of what was now a declaration on the Church’s relationship with all non-Christian religions met with the overwhelming approval of the assembled bishops in October 1965: 2,221 to 88 votes.18

The “Jewish document” that ultimately became the fourth part of Nostra Aetate thus underwent a number of changes, which involved compromises to build episcopal consensus, and ensure its survival. In this respect, the Church spoke more clearly in Nostra Aetate about orthopraxy than orthodoxy, neglecting the question of the relationship between Jews and Christ. Subsequent instructions on how to implement Nostra Aetate continued this trend, and, for decades, deferred thorny questions about covenant, mission, and salvation. In the meantime, though, the Church reflected on the significance of the Shoah, both in terms of framing Catholic-Jewish dialogue, and in purifying Christian conscience as a prelude to evangelization.

The 1974 document, Guidelines and Suggestions for Implementing the Conciliar DeclarationNostra Aetate” (n. 4), took shape under the auspices of the newly created Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews. These short guidelines directed Catholics to approach interreligious dialogue with an awareness of the “widespread air of suspicion” among Jews “inspired by an unfortunate past” for which Christians bore much responsibility. A section on the liturgy asserted that commentary on the fulfillment, in Jesus’ time, of Old Testament promises should keep in mind that these promises “still await their perfect fulfillment in his glorious return at the end of time.” This proleptic, or “already-but-not-yet,” approach to the redemption of the world through Jesus Christ avoids the air of triumphalism that overshadowed Christian-Jewish relations for centuries. It stresses the need for humility in Catholic-Jewish dialogue. Further points in Guidelines about catechetical reforms, and joint social action, underline the practical aspects of achieving better relations between Catholics and Jews.19

In 1985, Notes on the Correct Way to Present the Jews and Judaism in Preaching and Catechesis in the Roman Catholic Church marked another step in implementing Nostra Aetate; despite the very practical title, it approached theological issues more explicitly than had the 1965 or 1974 documents. It admonished against simplistic typologies that depicted “the transition from the Old to the New Testament” as “a rupture,” and specifically noted the Church’s condemnation of “the attitude of Marcion” and “his dualism.” It also emphasized that the “mystery of Israel,” the question of God’s relationship with the Church and the Jewish people, will only be understood at the end of time: “(I)n underlining the eschatological dimension of Christianity, we shall reach a greater awareness that the people of God of the Old and the New Testament are tending toward a like end in the future: the coming or the return of the Messiah—even if they start from two different points of view.”20

Within history, however, Christian-Jewish reconciliation required an acknowledgment of the sins committed by Christians against Jews. In 1998, in the Preface to We Remember: A Reflection on the Shoah, John Paul exhorted the faithful to prepare for the upcoming Jubilee, to reflect on history, to “purify their hearts, through repentance of past errors and infidelities.” Citing John Paul’s historic visit to the synagogue of Rome in 1986, in the old Roman ghetto, We Remember reiterated earlier statements about Christianity’s relationship with Judaism being “unlike the one she shares with any other religion.” The document forthrightly expressed deep regret about “the errors and failures of those sons and daughters of the Church” who failed to “raise their voices” about “the disappearance of their Jewish neighbors.”21 Two years later, John Paul offered a moving prayer of repentance at the Western Wall in Jerusalem. At the same time, We Remember drew criticism—and not just by Jews—for drawing hard-and-fast distinctions between religious anti-Judaism and racial anti-Semitism that denied historical continuity between these two phenomena.

Nostra Aetate rejected anti-Semitism, prompted reforms in catechesis, and laid the foundation for John Paul II’s conciliatory overtures to Jews. These important steps in improving Catholic-Jewish relations have cleared much ground, but left a significant theological obstacle in the way: how can one conceive of both the universality of salvation through Christ, and a continuing covenantal relationship between the Jewish people and God? The theological problem is complex, but two generalizations can be made. First, an ongoing Jewish covenant can be understood as one of two distinct covenants, though this leads to relativizing the Christian proclamation that Jesus is the way to salvation. Second, an insistence that the Jewish covenant is fulfilled in Christianity’s New Covenant can be seen as lingering supersessionism, or even a new call to conversion.

In the November 2005 issue of First Things magazine, the late Cardinal Avery Dulles observed that “the Second Vatican Council, while providing a solid and traditional framework for discussing Jewish-Christian relations … left open the question whether the Old Covenant is still in force today.” Dulles rejected taking any particular scriptural passages and using them as proof-texts, e.g., Hebrews, to demonstrate the abolition of the Law, or Romans, to demonstrate the permanent election of Israel. But he concluded, “it is unthinkable that in these chapters of Romans, Paul would be proposing salvation for Jews apart from Christ. … In the very passage in which he speaks of God’s abiding love for Israel, he confesses his great sorrow and anguish at Israel’s unbelief.”22 Dulles clearly rejects any kind of two-covenantal understanding of the soteriological question.

Supporting Dulles, Cardinal Christoph Schönborn adds that recognizing past Christian sins “does not mean that Christians, for their part, have abandoned the mandate to proclaim the Gospel ‘to the Jews first’ which the Apostles received from Christ, and which they passed on to the Church.”23 But Cardinal Walter Kasper, until recently President of the Pontifical Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews, all but repudiates mission, insisting that “the Church believes that Judaism, i.e., the faithful response of the Jewish people to God’s irrevocable covenant, is salvific for them, because God is faithful to his promises.”24 It is hard to argue that the Magisterium has spoken definitively on this issue. Practical conclusions again take precedence. Cardinal Kurt Koch, for example, distinguishes between “the rejection of an institutional mission to the Jews” and Christians “bearing witness to their faith in Jesus Christ … in a humble and unassuming manner, particularly in view of the great tragedy of the Shoah.”25 Without entirely yielding the mission of conversion, Koch urges a post-Holocaust (and one might add, post-Nostra Aetate) sensitivity on the part of Catholics.

Over the past few decades, Jewish responses to Nostra Aetate and other Catholic statements have been mixed. These responses have to be understood in the context of a long embittered Jewish-Christian relationship that has only recently begun to show signs of improvement. Not only should the Holocaust appear an obvious historical reference point, but we should also remember the centuries long disputation tradition, in which Jews were forced into pseudo debates with Christian scholars before medieval audiences, contests in which it was not always advisable for the Jews to formulate strong arguments. That some Jews should be wary of dialogue—or even reject it—should not be surprising. When Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel reacted vehemently to proposed conversionist language in the Vatican II Jewish document—exclaiming that he stood “ready to go to Auschwitz any time, if faced with the alternative of conversion or death”26—he spoke for many generations of Jews, some of whom during the Crusades had chosen death for themselves and their families rather than abandon the Jewish faith.

Jewish leaders have seen a certain “bipolarity of tendencies,” as Vatican II observer, Arthur Gilbert, put it, in Catholic thinking about Jews and the Jewish religion.27 We have already examined the historical trajectory of unresolved issues regarding covenant and mission. Jewish voices have raised concern in the new millennium about the possible limits of Catholic philosemitism, or pro-Jewish sentiment. The 2000 document, Dominus Iesus, issued by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and bearing the signature of then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, caused some consternation among Jews, including Dr. David Berger of the Rabbinical Council of America, who wrote: “In sum, we now have an official document of the Catholic Church, ‘ratified and confirmed’ by the Pope himself, declaring that a key purpose of interfaith dialogue is mission. There is overwhelming evidence that the author intended this to apply to Jews as well.”28 Berger did not object to the Christian affirmation that faith in Jesus Christ is normative for salvation—religious dialogue can, and should, be based on difference of beliefs—but rather the mention of mission.

In a similar vein, the 2008 Good Friday prayer in the extraordinary—or Latin—rite sparked reactions with its restoration of pre-Vatican II language regarding Jews: “Let us also pray for the Jews: That our God and Lord may illuminate their hearts, that they acknowledge Jesus Christ is the Savior of all men.29 At the same time, Benedict’s pontificate marked a continuation of Catholic attempts to sustain mutual respect and interreligious dialogue. In a visit to the Roman synagogue in 2010, Benedict spoke of the Catholic Church’s “irrevocable commitment to pursue the path of dialogue, fraternity, and friendship,” and echoed the Catechism in stating: “It is in pondering her own mystery that the Church, the People of God of the New Covenant, discovers her own bond with the Jews, who were chosen before all others to receive his word.”30 However, what a Catholic might see as paradox or mystery, a Jew might well perceive as bipolarity.

An examination of Catholic-Jewish relations, before and after Vatican II, points to noteworthy achievements and unfinished business. Nostra Aetate marked a new beginning in how Catholics view Jews, Judaism, and the Jewish roots of the Church. A “teaching of contempt” found itself displaced by a new emphasis on reverence, humility, and fraternal dialogue, particularly during the pontificate of John Paul II. In this regard, Popes Benedict XVI and Francis have expressed their unwavering commitment to perpetuating the legacy of Vatican II. In the process, Catholics have, not only changed the way they look at Jews, but also at their own faith, a faith begun by the Jewish disciples of Rabbi Yeshua, proclaimed to the nations as the Risen Christ.

The revitalization of Christian mission is a hallmark of both Vatican II and the New Evangelization. But mission is also a sore point, and one burdened by the historical legacy of the pain Christians have visited upon Jews. The question of covenant and mission—related inevitably to salvation itself—has entailed intense and unresolved debates about the nature and validity of the Jewish covenant with God. The eschatological aspect of this question may make it unresolvable.

But in this historical moment, this question poses a dilemma for the Catholic Church. Catholics should desire friendship with Jews, but should they also desire that their friends accept Christ? Faithful to the promise of the Gospel and the call of the New Evangelization, Catholics would be less than friends if they did not continually hold forth this invitation to Jews, and to all people. At the same time, Catholics should understand why Jews may look less at the Gospel message and more at the historic failures of Christians adequately to follow the goodness of Christ. Perhaps, this is the most crucial problem in Catholic-Jewish relations today.

  1. Jules Isaac, The Teaching of Contempt: The Christian Roots of Anti-Semitism, trans. Helen Weaver (Toronto: McGraw-Hill, 1964).
  2. Novo Milennio Ineunte (henceforth NMI), §55, w2.vatican.va/content/john-paul-ii/en/apost_letters/2001/documents/hf_jp-ii_apl_20010106_novo-millennio-ineunte.html. Accessed March 12, 2015.
  3. NMI, §6.
  4. John Paul II used this phrase in his 1986 visit to the Rome Synagogue. See Rabbi David Rosen, “‘Nostra Aetate,’ Forty Years After Vatican II: Present and Future Perspectives,” vatican.va/roman_curia/pontifical_councils/chrstuni/relations-jews-docs/rc_pc_chrstuni_doc_20051027_rabbi-rosen_en.html. Accessed April 8, 2015.
  5. Address of His Holiness Benedict XVI to Members of the Delegation of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations,” w2.vatican.va/content/benedict-xvi/en/speeches/2009/february/documents/hf_ben-xvi_spe_20090212_jewish-organizations.html. Accessed February 14, 2015.
  6. Jorge Mario Bergoglio & Abraham Skorka, On Heaven and Earth (New York: Image, 2013), 188.
  7. See the encyclical Redemptoris Missio, §2: w2.vatican.va/content/john-paul-ii/en/encyclicals/documents/hf_jp-ii_enc_07121990_redemptoris-missio.html. Accessed January 28, 2015.
  8. St. John Chrysostom, Discourses against Judaizing Christians (The Fathers of the Church, Volume 68), trans. Paul W. Harkins (Washington, DC: Catholic University of America Press, 2010), 35.
  9. See Paula Fredriksen, Augustine and the Jews: A Christian Defense of Jews and Judaism (New York: Doubleday, 2008).
  10. Quoted in Arnold A. Rogow, ed., The Jew in a Gentile World: An Anthology of Writings about Jews by Non-Jews (New York: Macmillan, 1961), 91.
  11. “Address of His Holiness Benedict XVI to the Roman Curia, Offering Them His Christmas Greetings, Thursday, 22 December 2005,” w2.vatican.va/content/benedict-xvi/en/speeches/2005/december/documents/hf_ben_xvi_spe_20051222_roman-curia.html. Accessed April 11, 2015.
  12. Quoted in John T. Pawlikowski, OSM, “Moving the Christian-Jewish Dialogue to a New Level: Can It Happen?” Studies in Christian-Jewish Relations 3 (2008), CP1; ejournals.bc.edu/ojs/index.php/scjr/article/viewFile/1503/1356. Accessed April 30, 2015.
  13. Richard Francis Crane, Passion of Israel: Jacques Maritain, Catholic Conscience, and the Holocaust (Scranton, PA: University of Scranton Press, 2010).
  14. Nostra Aetate: Declaration on the Relation of the Church to Non-Christian Religions (henceforth NA), §4, vatican.va/archive/hist_councils/ii_vatican_council/documents/vat-ii_decl_19651028_nostra-aetate_en.html. Accessed March 30, 2014.
  15. John Connelly, From Enemy to Brother: The Revolution in Catholic Teachings on the Jews, 1933-1965 (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2012), 287.
  16. NA §4.
  17. Cardinal Augustin Bea, The Church and the Jewish People: A Commentary on the Council’s Declaration on the Relation of the Church to Non-Christian Religions, trans. Philip Loretz (New York: Harper and Row, 1966).
  18. Pier Francesco Fumagalli, “Nostra Aetate: A Milestone,” vatican.va/jubilee_2000/magazine/documents/ju_mag_01111997_p-31_en.html. Accessed April 30, 2015.
  19. Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews, “Guidelines and Suggestions for Implementing the Conciliar Declaration ‘Nostra Aetate’ (n. 4),” vatican.va/roman_curia/pontifical_councils/chrstuni/relations-jews-docs/rc_pc_chrstuni_doc_19741201_nostra-aetate_en.html. Accessed April 16, 2015.
  20. Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews, “On the Correct Way to Present the Jews and Judaism in Preaching and Catechesis in the Roman Catholic Church,” vatican.va/roman_curia/pontifical_councils/chrstuni/relations-jews-docs/rc_pc_chrstuni_doc_19820306_jews-judaism_en.html. Accessed April 16, 2015.
  21. Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews, “We Remember: A Reflection on the Shoah,” vatican.va/roman_curia/pontifical_councils/chrstuni/documents/rc_pc_chrstuni_doc_16031998_shoah_en.html. Accessed April 16, 2015.
  22. Avery Dulles, “The Covenant with Israel,” firstthings.com/article/2005/11/the-covenant-with-israel. Accessed March 12, 2015.
  23. Cardinal Christoph Schönborn, “Judaism’s Way to Salvation,” The Tablet, March 29, 2008, ccjr.us/dialogika-resources/themes-in-todays-dialogue/conversion/528-schonborn08mar29. Accessed February 21, 2015.
  24. Cardinal Walter Kasper, “Dominus Iesus,” bc.edu/content/dam/files/research_sites/cjl/texts/cjrelations/resources/articles/kasper_dominus_iesus.htm. Accessed April 28, 2015.
  25. Cardinal Kurt Koch, “Theological Questions and Perspectives in Jewish-Catholic Dialogue,” ccjr.us/dialogika-resources/documents-and-statements/roman-catholic/kurt-cardinal-koch/987-koch2011oct30. Accessed April 19, 2015.
  26. Quoted in Gavin D’Costa, Vatican II: Catholic Doctrines on Jews and Muslims (New York: Oxford University Press, 2014), 132.
  27. Arthur Gilbert, The Vatican Council and the Jews (Cleveland: World Publishing Company, 1968), 215.
  28. Rabbi David Berger, “On Dominus Iesus and the Jews,” bc.edu/content/dam/files/research_sites/cjl/texts/cjrelations/resources/articles/berger.htm. Accessed January 20, 2015.
  29. Gerald O’Connell, “Jews: Revision of Latin Mass Prayer Offensive,” Our Sunday Visitor, March 16, 2008, osv.com/OSVNewsweekly/RSS/RSSVatican/TabId/974/ArtMID/14184/ArticleID/4837/Jews-Revision-of-Latin-Mass-prayer-offensive.aspx. Accessed April 30, 2015.
  30. “Visit to the Synagogue of Rome: Address of His Holiness Benedict XVI, Sunday, 17 January 2010,” w2.vatican.va/content/benedict-xvi/en/speeches/2010/january/documents/hf_ben-xvi_spe_20100117_sinagoga.html. Accessed April 30, 2015.
Dr. Richard Francis Crane, PhD About Dr. Richard Francis Crane, PhD

Richard Francis Crane is a professor of history at Benedictine College in Atchison, Kansas. He and his family are parishioners at St. Benedict's Catholic Church in Atchison, where he is active in the parish's RCIA ministry. He is also the author of several books and articles, most recently Passion of Israel: Jacques Maritain, Catholic Conscience, and the Holocaust (Wipf & Stock, 2014).


  1. What the Church appears to have done since 1965 is to repudiate the almost 2000 year teachings of scripture, the saints and the fathers on post Temple Judaism in the name of a mistaken political correctness. Its not anti-semitism to hold as Christians that ALL men without exception ought to become baptized and believe in Jesus Christ, including those holding to post temple Judaism. If the Catholic Church can simply erase the clear teachings of two millennia in the name of political correctness it is not the True Church.

  2. Avatar J. E. Sigler says:

    This is a question I have wondered about my since my conversion to Catholicism:

    “Is acknowledging and atoning for the truth of a historically troubled relationship compatible with witnessing to the truth of the Catholic faith? Are Jews to be the striking exception to the missionary focus of the New Evangelization? And if so, what does this say about the salvation of Jews and Christians alike?”

    Although I realize you didn’t solve the problem, Dr. Crane, I am grateful for your having spoken frankly about its difficulty and current unresolved state. That itself is, I think, a good beginning to resolving it.

  3. The issue at stake here is whether the Catholic Church,Scripture and the Fathers have gotten it completely wrong on the question of post Temple Judaism for almost two millennia or not. It seems dead wrong to say that neither our Lord,St. Paul and almost two thousands years of theology were so wrong about Judaism until the mid nineteen sixties. It seems preposterous. On what basis do we do a complete about face regarding Judaism?

    I’m not advocating a persecution of Jews but just saying, such an about face is unprecedented and has zero basis in traditional Catholic readings of scripture, the saints and Fathers. It’s profoundly troubling.

  4. I don’t understand the conflict in this matter of the salvation of Israel. The Vatican II (current) Catechism of the Catholic Church is consistent with Paul’s teachings in Romans 11, especially, as demonstrated below.
    First, the Catechism teaches that all men who seek God in sincerity, who are moved by grace and follow conscience, may – may – achieve salvation:
    CCC 847 … Those who, through no fault of their own, do not know the Gospel of Christ or his Church, but who nevertheless seek God with a sincere heart, and, moved by grace, try in their actions to do his will as they know it through the dictates of their conscience – those too may achieve eternal salvation.
    This possibility is taught by Paul in Scripture – see Rom 2:15. Also, the Catechism also teaches that she still has “the obligation and also the sacred right to evangelize all men” (This is of course the missionary mandate of Mt 28.):
    CCC 848 “Although in ways known to himself God can lead those who, through no fault of their own, are ignorant of the Gospel, to that faith without which it is impossible to please him, the Church still has the obligation and also the sacred right to evangelize all men.”
    Next, concerning the Jewish people in particular, the Catechism has this:
    CCC 839 “Those who have not yet received the Gospel are related to the People of God in various ways.” The relationship of the Church with the Jewish People. When she delves into her own mystery, the Church, the People of God in the New Covenant, discovers her link with the Jewish People, “the first to hear the Word of God.” The Jewish faith, unlike other non-Christian religions, is already a response to God’s revelation in the Old Covenant. To the Jews “belong the sonship, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises; to them belong the patriarchs, and of their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ”, “for the gifts and the call of God are irrevocable.”

    So – personally I find the whole chapter Romans 11 to be very instructive in this matter of salvation concerning the Jews. I will include some of the more relevant verses below, and will add emphasis where appropriate:
    Rom 11:1  I ask, then, has God rejected his people? By no means! I myself am an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, a member of the tribe of Benjamin.
    Rom 11:2  God has not rejected his people whom he foreknew….
    Rom 11:5  So too at the present time there is a remnant, chosen by grace.

    Rom 11:7  What then? Israel failed to obtain what it sought. The elect obtained it, but the rest were hardened,
    Rom 11:8  as it is written, “God gave them a spirit of stupor, eyes that should not see and ears that should not hear, down to this very day.”
    Gentiles Grafted In
    Rom 11:11  So I ask, have they stumbled so as to fall? By no means! But through their trespass salvation has come to the Gentiles, so as to make Israel jealous.
    The Mystery of Israel’s Salvation
    Rom 11:25  Lest you be wise in your own conceits, I want you to understand this MYSTERY, brethren: A HARDENING HAS COME UPON PART OF ISRAEL UNTIL THE FULL NUMBER OF THE GENTILES COME IN,
    Rom 11:26  AND SO ALL ISRAEL WILL BE SAVED; as it is written, “The Deliverer will come from Zion, he will banish ungodliness from Jacob”;
    Rom 11:27  “and this will be my covenant with them when I take away their sins.”