Catholic Truth and the Salvation of Souls are at Stake

“I believe the Vatican Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews owes those of us in the dialogue some explanation of how the theologies behind the two prayers can stand together, and whether Cardinal Kasper’s often-quoted statement that Jews should not be the subject of proselytizing because they have authentic revelation and are already in a valid covenantal relationship with God. Does the new papal prayer now invalidate Kasper’s earlier statement? If not, how does he see it remaining as a Catholic position?”

The above statement was made recently in the context of the controversy over the new Good Friday Prayer. I will not name the Jesuit priest who made the statement. His name is not important. Although he is a progressivist, he raises some good questions regarding the new prayer.

I would like to back off the issue of the new prayer and focus only on one part of that quote: “Jews should not be the subject of proselytizing because they have authentic revelation and are already in a valid covenantal relationship with God.” That statement is not only wrong, but it at least implies heresy. Here are a few proofs:

The Council of Florence: “[The Catholic Church] firmly believes, professes, and teaches that the matter pertaining to the law of the Old Testament, of the Mosaic law, which are divided into ceremonies, sacred rites, sacrifices, and sacraments, because they were established to signify something in the future, although they were suited to the divine worship at that time, after our Lord’s coming had been signified by them, ceased, and the sacraments of the New Testament began; and that whoever, even after the passion, placed hope in these matters of the law and submitted himself to them as necessary for salvation, as if faith in Christ could not save without them, sinned mortally. Yet it does not deny that after the passion of Christ up to the promulgation of the Gospel they could have been observed until they were believed to be in no way necessary for salvation; but after the promulgation of the Gospel it asserts that they cannot be observed without the loss of eternal salvation. All, therefore, who after that time observe circumcision and the Sabbath and the other requirements of the law, it declares alien to the Christian faith and not in the least fit to participate in eternal salvation, unless someday they recover from these errors.” (Denz. 712)

According to the Council of Florence (following the universal tradition of Scripture, the Fathers, and the Scholastics), the Old Law “ceased” (cessasse) when the New Law of Christ was instituted. This passage from the council relies heavily on Saint Thomas Aquinas — some passages are close paraphrases — who divided the Old Law into the moral, ceremonial and judicial precepts. The moral law, which is continued in the New Testament, is nothing other than the natural law. The ceremonial and juridical precepts both ceased with the Passion of Christ (see, ST Ia IIae, Q. 103, A. 4 ad 1 for the ceremonial and Ia IIae Q 104, A. 3 for the judicial precepts). To Saint Thomas and Saint Augustine, the observance of the Old Law’s ceremonies was “neither dead nor deadly” before the Passion of Christ, “dead but not deadly” during the time in between the Passion and the promulgation of the Gospel, and finally, “dead and deadly” after the promulgation of the Gospel. For this reason, it has always been regarded as mortally sinful for Catholics to practice Jewish rites.

Pope Pius XII: “And first of all, by the death of our Redeemer, the New Testament took the place of the Old Law which had been abolished; then the Law of Christ together with its mysteries, enactments, institutions, and sacred rites was ratified for the whole world in the blood of Jesus Christ.” (Mystici Corporis Christi, paragraph 29)

Two patristic citations will also help make the point:

St. Augustine: “Instead of the grace of the law which has passed away, we have received the grace of the gospel which is abiding; and instead of the shadows and types of the old dispensation, the truth has come by Jesus Christ. Jeremiah also prophesied thus in God’s name: ‘Behold, the days come, says the Lord, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah…’ Observe what the prophet says, not to Gentiles, who had not been partakers in any former covenant, but to the Jewish nation. He who has given them the law by Moses, promises in place of it the New Covenant of the gospel, that they might no longer live in the oldness of the letter, but in the newness of the spirit.” (Letters, 74, 4)

To see how Saint Paul uses this same prophesy from Jeremias, refer to the article, “A Better Testament.” Scroll down to the subheading “The Testimony of Jeremias.”

Justin Martyr: “Now, law placed against law has abrogated that which is before it, and a covenant which comes after in like manner has put an end to the previous one; and an eternal and final law — namely, Christ — has been given to us, and the covenant is trustworthy…Have you not read…by Jeremiah, concerning this same new covenant, He thus speaks: ‘Behold, the days come,’ says the Lord, ‘that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah….'” (Dialogue with Trypho, Ch. 11)

For these two patristic citations, I am indebted to Dr. Robert Sungenis, whose 41-page study “The Old Covenant: Revoked or Not Revoked?” is worth reading on this subject.