Charity for Gentiles and Jews

There is a lot of talk about the Pope’s new book. I have not read Volume II of Jesus of Nazareth, so I cannot and will not comment on it. Rather, I will use one short article about the book as a springboard into a purely theological, biblical, and, if you will, “missiological” issue of tremendous import. This issue touches on the very heart of our Crusade.

John Allen’s brief article on the subject, Church should not pursue conversion of Jews, pope says, focuses on the fact that the Jews will indeed convert “in God’s time,” and that this event will happen “when the number of Gentiles is full.” Allen also claims that the Holy Father excuses the Church from any mission to evangelize the Jews:

In terms of the proper Christian attitude in the meantime, Benedict approvingly quotes Cistercian abbess and Biblical writer Hildegard Brem: “The church must not concern herself with the conversion of the Jews, since she must wait for the time fixed for this by God.”

Supposedly, too, the book attenuates the missionary imperative by asserting that the Faith is not necessary for each individual to be saved, but only necessary in a global sense for the human race to fulfill its ultimate destiny:

Benedict says that in the early church, the urgency of evangelization wasn’t based so much on the idea that every human being had to know Christ in order to be saved, but rather on a “grand conception of history,” according to which the Gospel had to reach all the nations in order for the world to fulfill its destiny.

My comments are based on Mr. Allen’s reading of the Pope’s book and not at the book itself; but what of the possibility that Allen’s words accurately represent the Pope’s thought? If that were the case, are faithful Catholics permitted to disagree? I’ll let Pope Benedict himself reply. In the Preface to the first volume of this same work, the Holy Father made it plain that the thoughts therein do not bind Christians:

Of course, it goes without saying that this book is absolutely not a magisterial act, but is only the expression of my personal search for the “face of the Lord” (Psalm 27:8). So everyone is free to disagree with me. I ask only that my readers begin with that attitude of good will without which there is no understanding.

In considering Allen’s article with “that attitude of good will,” I  cannot help but agree with the remarks he quotes from the late Cardinal Avery Dulles, S.J. (emphasis mine):

Almost ten years ago, the late Cardinal Avery Dulles was critical of a joint statement from the National Council of Synagogues and the Committee for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs of the U.S. Bishops’ Conference to the effect that “targeting Jews for conversion to Christianity” is “no longer theologically acceptable in the Catholic Church.”

Dulles replied that the church cannot curtail the scope of the gospel without betraying itself: “Once we grant that there are some persons for whom it is not important to acknowledge Christ, to be baptized and to receive the sacraments, we raise questions about our own religious life,” he wrote.

Decades of theological drift away from the influence of his one-time spiritual Father seem to have been forgotten in that statement of the famous Jesuit.1

Is there any truth to the assertion that “in God’s time,” the Jews will convert en masse “when the number of Gentiles is full”? Yes.

In three famously difficult chapters of his Epistle to the Romans (9-11), St. Paul wrestles with the thorny and painful question of Israel’s rejection of the Christ. With a tender love for his nation, St. Paul juxtaposes a litany of Jewish prerogatives and divine favors with the tragic scene he beholds in his own day, when the vast majority of his people (though, of course, not all, as he himself points out) refused to accept God’s Anointed One. In the last of these three chapters, he makes it very clear that Israel will come into the Church:

I would not have you ignorant, brethren, of this mystery, … that blindness in part has happened in Israel, until the fullness of the gentiles should come in. And so all Israel should be saved, as it is written [Isaias 59:20]: “There shall come out of Sion he that shall deliver, and shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob.” …For as you [gentiles] also in times past did not believe God, but now have obtained mercy through their [Israel’s] unbelief, so these also now have not believed, for your mercy, that they also may obtain mercy.” (Rom 11:25 sqq.)

Father Pohle, in his volume on Eschatology (pp. 105-106), explains:

From this text [of Romans 11, which I’ve just cited] it may with reasonable certainty be concluded:

(a) That the majority of nations, or at least the majority of the people of all nations (plenitudo gentium), will embrace Christianity before the end of the world;

(b) That, after the general conversion of the “gentiles,” the Jews, too, will accept the Gospel.

Though these propositions by no means embody articles of faith, it requires more than such antisemitic scolding as was indulged in by Luther to disprove them. The Apostle expressly speaks of a “mystery,” and ascribes the final conversion of the Jews, not to the physical or mental characteristics of the Semitic race, but to a special dispensation of God’s “mercy.” Luther overlooked both these factors when he wrote: “A Jew, or a Jewish heart, is as hard as wood, stone, or iron, as hard in fact as the devil himself, and hence cannot be moved by any means. … They are young imps condemned to Hell. … Those who conclude from the eleventh chapter of St. Paul’s Epistle to the Romans that the Jews will all be converted towards the end of the world, are foolish and their opinion is groundless.”

Father Pohle is not alone among Catholic authors in censuring Luther’s anti-Jewish diatribe on Romans 11. Father Ferdinand Prat, in his masterful two-volume The Theology of St. Paul (vol. I, p. 266) takes umbrage with the same passage from the apostate Augustinian, and broadens his criticisms to Luther’s fellow heresiarchs: “If the leaders of the Reformation refused to believe in the ultimate conversion of the Jews, it was only on account of the dogmatic prejudices. … Modern Protestants have, on the whole, returned to a better exegesis of St. Paul, whose teaching is wholly unambiguous.” Father Prat’s many scholarly pages on Romans 9 to 11 are a must-read for those seriously interested in the teachings of St. Paul on Israel and his relationship with the Church.

If St. Paul is “wholly unambiguous” on the subject of the eventual mass-conversion of the Jews, it seems to me that the Fathers of the Church were, as well — at least an impressive number of them. I’ll cite but one passage, from St. Cyril of Alexandria’s Commentary on Genesis, Bk. 5: “Towards the end of time, Our Lord Jesus Christ will effect the reconciliation of His former persecutor Israel with Himself. Everybody who knows Holy Scripture is aware that, in the course of time, this people will return to the love of Christ by the submission of faith . . . Yes, one day, after the conversion of the Gentiles, Israel will be converted, and the Jews will be astonished at the treasure they will find in Christ.”

Two impressive digests of patristic passages have been put together by Roy Schoeman (a Catholic convert from Judaism) and Michael Forrest.2

The old Good Friday prayer for the Jews, and, more explicitly, Pope Benedict’s new replacement, both use the language of Romans 11 in praying for the conversion of the Jews (see “Father Z” for the texts in Latin and English).

I must strongly disagree with the proposition that “in the early church, the urgency of evangelization wasn’t based so much on the idea that every human being had to know Christ in order to be saved, but rather on a ‘grand conception of history,’ according to which the Gospel had to reach all the nations in order for the world to fulfill its destiny.” The language here sounds disturbingly Teilhardian, and discounts the scriptural, patristic, and magisterial data to the contrary.

You can’t get any more “early-church” than Jesus, and He told the Apostles, “Go ye into the whole world, and preach the Gospel to every creature. He that believeth and is baptized, shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be condemned” (Mk. 16:15-16). As for the Fathers, I refer the reader to the articles, The Fathers of the Church on Extra Ecclesiam Nulla Salus and Pelagius Lives, to see whether they diminished the necessity of individual conversion in favor of a “grand conception of history.” And no Catholic can hold that, when the Roman Magisterium gave us three infallible definitions on the subject, Holy Mother Church taught us a Faith contrary to what was believed “in the early church.” To hold that would be to postulate “a hermeneutic of discontinuity and rupture” spanning across two millennia.

If we exclude Jews from evangelism, we do more than “raise questions about our own religious life,” as Cardinal Dulles correctly observed. We sin against Charity, and judge, with Luther, that this or that Jew is incapable of conversion. The big conversion will happen in the end, yes; but, meantime, the Church must make disciples of all nations. In individual cases, the grace and mercy of God can and will certainly precede the large-scale eschatological event of Israel’s conversion.

Thus has it been all throughout the history of the Church.

Gary Potter wrote a wonderful article, “Forgotten Converts,” in which he discusses such converts to the Faith as Rabbi David Paul Drach, Theodor and Alphonse Ratisbonne, Ven. Paul Francis (Jacob) Liberman, Ludwig and Jenny Loeb — Jews all. Mr. Potter’s subjects belonged to the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. We may go back further in citing the Catholic Encyclopedia article on St. Thomas Aquinas. Both in his life and posthumously, through his writings, the Angelic Doctor converted at least three Rabbis:

Calo, Tocco, and other biographers relate that St. Thomas, traveling from Rome to Naples, converted two celebrated Jewish rabbis, whom he met at the country house of Cardinal Richard (Prümmer, op. cit., p. 33; Vaughan, op. cit., I, p. 795). Rabbi Paul of Burgos, in the fifteenth century, was converted by reading the works of St. Thomas.

That same Encyclopedia, in its entry on another Dominican, the Spanish St. Vincent Ferrer, tells us of that apostolic friar’s fruitful harvest: “Ranzano, his first biographer, estimates the number of Jews converted at 25,000.” This is in addition to all the Moslems, Waldensians, Cathars and bad Catholics whom St. Vincent converted.

These random examples do not even scratch the surface, but the point is irrefutable: There has been a steady, if small, stream of conversions to the Faith from Jewry since the day St. Peter preached to them, converting 3,000 on that first Christian Pentecost. St. Paul himself, in the very context of his prophesy of the eventual conversion of the Jews in Romans 11, assures us that in converting the gentiles he also hopes to provoke the Jews to conversion: “For I say to you, Gentiles: as long indeed as I am the apostle of the Gentiles, I will honour my ministry, if, by any means, I may provoke to emulation them who are my flesh, and may save some of them.” (Rom. 11:13-14). The New American Bible translates verse 14 this way: “I glory in my ministry in order to make my race jealous and thus save some of them.” By converting the gentiles to the life of grace in the Mystical Body of the Jewish Messias, St. Paul wanted to make his own people “jealous” and desirous of the blessings of the New Covenant. If he, the Apostle of the Gentiles, provoked his people to conversion that he might “thus save some of them,” how can we modern-day Catholics say that we have no mission to the Jews?

At the risk of sounding terribly unsophisticated and callow, I propose that, since Israel will not enter the Church en masse until the fullness of the gentiles has entered, let us direct our prayers and works toward that very end, the in-earnest evangelization of nations, from farthest East to deepest South, into Communist strongholds and through the frightening Islamic wall that has rendered a massive swath of Africa, Asia, and the Pacific seemingly impervious to the Gospel. Yes, this is an invitation to martyrdom, that semen Christiani that will make the Church grow.

In other words, let’s launch “Project Gentile Fullness,” so that the corporate conversion of Israel may become a reality. This is charity for the Gentiles, charity for the Jews, and charity, most importantly, for the Blessed Trinity, without whose grace and truth we will all perish.

  1. Avery Dulles was once an avid disciple of Father Leonard Feeney. His early writings are found in From the Housetops, e.g., “Saint Ephrem,” which we reproduced on our site as authored by a “Jesuit Priest.”
  2. This does not constitute a recommendation of all the material on these sites.
  • ED

    I find the Holy Father’s personal views on this perplexing unless he knows something that the 3rd Secret of Fatima has told him about the last days. Yes the Jews of the last generation on earth before Our Savior returns will be saved by a special grace given to them by God, but for the preceding generations the gospel must be preached to them and to every human creature as the Lord says.

  • Donald E. Flood

    It seems to me a stretch to say that someone could have an unconscious, “implicit faith” in the Blessed Trinity and Incarnation accompanied by an “implicit desire” for sacramental Baptism. One could only wonder how such a “catechumen” could ever become an apostate, or even if such a person was capable of making such a “choice,” even if he or she “wanted” to. This view seems Calvinistic. It also implies that the preferable option to salvation is to be ignorant of Catholic revelation, that such ignorance is more advantageous than is knowledge. If true, that would mean that one could be saved based upon what one does not know, versus what one does know.

    For me, it is far easier (as I am sure, Father Feeney would agree) to believe that the One and Triune God, being omnipotent, omnipresent, and especially, omniscient would insure that good Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, etc., were all sacramentally baptized in their infancy. (After all, “anyone whatsoever” can validly baptized — Lateran IV, Canon 1.) If one thing is certain in all of the Catholic Faith, it is that we are all born in a state of damnation, original sin, which means, for an infant at least, sacramental Baptism is the sole and only way to everlasting life (Council of Carthage.) So, even if “implicit faith with implicit desire” exists as a way of salvation apart from sacramental Baptism, it would not help an individual for at least the first seven years of that person’s life. Being baptized in infancy, however, would be place a person in a state of grace, where eternal life would be theirs to lose, not gain. As long as that person lived and died without mortal sin, he or she would enter everlasting life, at least eventually.

  • James

    Brother André Marie is correct…very good article…
    Glad to see this is the Holy Fathers \personal opinion\.

  • Jim Bolton

    I am curious, that you approvingly reference Shoeman, who calls for a hebrew Rite and Forrest, who has attacked any mention of jewish perfidy. Neither would likely give your group the time of day and would likely be happy to attack you the way they have attacked Sungenis,etc as “kooky trads’. Likely, neither would follow Fr. Feeney’s support for EENS. maybe these 2 men have some positive things to say, true, but disturbing….

  • Mr. Bolton: I did say, in a footnote, “This does not constitute a recommendation of all the material on these sites.” It’s not uncommon for an author to cite someone he disagrees with as a source.

    I don’t know much about Mr. Forrest, but I am very opposed to much of the material in Mr. Schoeman’s book. I think the idea of a Hebrew rite is ludicrous, and I found the anti-Arabism in Salvation is from the Jews to be frankly disgusting. I linked to their sites because these men had compiled patristic references that backed the thesis I was advancing. For the record, Father Denis Fahey, who is a favorite author of “kooky trads,” believed and advanced that same thesis, as one can see from his fine book, The Kingship of Christ and the Conversion of the Jewish Nation:

    http://store.catholicism.org/index.php?target=products&product_id=14

    If Mr. Forrest and Mr. Schoeman would not give me the time of day, that’s too bad. I’ll still use their sources.

    God bless and Mary keep you.

  • Ray

    The word “Gentile” always “amuses” me. The Latter-day Saints have designated everyone who is not a “Mormon” as a Gentile. So there you have it. HA!!!! In that case, even the Jews are Gentiles. HA!!!!

  • How can the Jews “convert” into Catholicism – be it in their own time, or God’s time – when their essential nature is racial not religious?

  • Any human being who is not a Catholic can convert to Catholicism.

  • Only about half of Jews believe in the existence of God though, Brother André. Does not conversion describe transubstantition, transmutation from that which one was but is not now? If a pagan converted to Christianity would he be able to retain his pagan ways and be, at once, both Christian and pagan? What about at once both Moslem and Christian? While Judaism is the religion practiced by Jews who do believe in God, the belief in God is not essential to the nature of Jewishness.

  • Do you accept my assertion above, that any human being who is not a Catholic can convert to Catholicism?

  • When a Jew “converts” into Catholicism, is that person still a Jew? If so is that contradictory?

  • You have not replied to my question. I ask you to do so after I reply to yours.

    In common parlance, the word “Jew” is used equivocally. In one sense, it connotes a national-ethnic category; in another, it identifies a religious affiliation. Both senses can be broken down further.

    Failure to respect the distinct meanings of the term can lead to the fallacy of four terms, which is an error in logic that would impair rational discussion of this issue.

    If a person of Jewish ethnicity, who is also a non-Catholic, converts to Catholicism, then he is still a Jew in that first sense, but cannot be in the second sense. This is just as a German Lutheran, who converts to Catholicism, remains a German, but ceases to be a Lutheran.

  • Thank you for your response. In answer to your question I would say that, not being a Catholic, I am not really qualified to say. However I would like to think that not just anyone can become a Catholic. Standards have their place.

    I think denying God would preclude one from becoming a Catholic. I think denying the divinity of Jesus would be another problem that would make defining a person as a Catholic problematic. I think that it is difficult to grasp how some ethnic groups seem to have the ability to walk in all circles with surprising acceptance while being particularly exclusionary in their own practices. It is all the more complicated when so few understand whether it’s either a religion or a race that is being talked about. Thankfully you understand such distinctions.

  • Have you ever heard of the term ‘catechism’?

  • That would appear to be formalized statement of church doctrine, of which there have been many by many authors and at many different times. They are structured as a question and answer format but seemingly just that without particular attention paid to explaining these answers, simply on listing them. Why? Is there one written by some church scholar from centuries past that explains how an ethnic group like the Jews that self-defines as a racial group not a religious group, gets to choose whether to describe themselves as a race or a religion situationally, in answer to the familiar question of what’s best for them? Is a person who is ethnically Jewish, but say, an agnostic, still not culturally Jewish? Is Jewish culture not anti-Christian, are the words of their great rabbis like Rabbi Shneerson and Ovadia Yosef not unambiguously anti-gentile? Why is it these people who strive against Christianity and against western culture get to put on a white guy hat, or a Christian hat, and just sit down at any table as if they belong there?

  • A Catholic must accept Catholic teaching, so anyone who has reached the age of reason can be one.

  • I am uncertain whether you are referring me to a two hundred year old Thomas Paine work in a not entirely unwarranted veiled accusation of me waging an attack on the church, or if you are saying anyone with the ability to reason, with enough years to be able to accept God, to intellectually understand church doctrine, can become a Catholic. I do understand that the Catholic church does proselytize whereas Judaism does not. I also understand that the Jews and the Church have, or until recent papal pronouncement, had a rather large historic beef back to Roman times.

  • I only meant to assure you that not just anyone can become a Catholic. One must be chosen.

  • Augur Mayson: Now I understand where you are coming from. Certainly, for anyone to become a Catholic, he would have to accept the entirety of Catholic doctrine in faith and morals, assent to the teaching and governing authority of the Catholic Church, and accept her sacraments.

    In my statement that “Any human being who is not a Catholic can convert to Catholicism,” the word “convert” implies all that. All men are “capax Dei,” to use Saint Augustine’s expression — capable of receiving God, and therefore capable of being baptized and doing all those other things I put in the first paragraph.

    You are of course correct that people fail to make these distinctions regarding what we could call “creed” and “blood.” In the case of Jewishness, some people seem to revel in failing to make that distinction, but, in my experience, most Jews themselves acknowledge it as a basic fact of their existence.

    Let me invite you to embrace the Catholic Faith. It is the true religion.

  • She doesn’t mean Chosen in the Jewish sense, she means it in the sense of Providence, the way you were chosen to be a leader in the WN movement. I struggle sometimes with notion of Predestination, the inevitably of Causality and the illusions of Freedom.

  • Garret Kade Dupre

    I’ve been reading Fr. Feeney’s articles. In one of them he says Fr. Pius Mortara was “[c]ut off from the cursed blood of the Jews” by his ordination. Would it be wrong for me to believe the Bible teaches the Jews are a cursed race? I ask because this contradicts Vatican II, and although I understand it was merely pastoral, I don’t want to just go contradicting it … you know … I guess I don’t want to be imprudent.

    Thanks.