The Vatican Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews released a text Thursday highlighting the unique relationship between Jews and Christians, underscoring the irrevocable character of God’s covenant with the Jewish people, and urging Christians to work together with Jews to combat “all manifestations of racial discrimination against Jews and all forms of anti-Semitism.”
The text was released to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Nostra Aetate, the declaration issued in 1965 by the Second Vatican Council, which marked a watershed in Jewish-Christian relations.
In language unusual in its day, Nostra Aetate stated that “God holds the Jews most dear,” stressed the great “spiritual patrimony common to Christians and Jews,” and condemned “hatred, persecutions, displays of anti-Semitism, directed against Jews at any time and by anyone.”
Thursday’s text, titled “The Gifts and the Calling of God Are Irrevocable,” delves into the complex theological question of “how Christian belief in the universal salvific significance of Jesus Christ can be combined in a coherent way with the equally clear statement of faith in the never-revoked covenant of God with Israel.”
It is the belief of the Church, the text states, “that Christ is the Savior for all. There cannot be two ways of salvation, therefore, since Christ is also the Redeemer of the Jews in addition to the Gentiles.”
At the same time, the mystery of God’s work “is not a matter of missionary efforts to convert Jews, but rather the expectation that the Lord will bring about the hour when we will all be united” and “all peoples will call on God with one voice and ‘serve him shoulder to shoulder.’”
The new document renews the “important goal” of jointly combatting anti-Semitism. “History teaches us where even the slightest perceptible forms of anti-Semitism can lead: the human tragedy of the Shoah in which two-thirds of European Jewry were annihilated.”
Pope Francis has addressed the theme of Jewish-Christian relations several times during his pontificate, notably this past October when he told an interreligious audience that between the two faiths, “indifference and opposition have turned into cooperation and goodwill.”
The Pope noted the significant sea change brought about by the 1965 document, and thanked God for the new, closer relationship enjoyed by Christians and Jews.
“We owe special gratitude to God for the dramatic transformation that has taken place over the last 50 years in the relationship between Christians and Jews,” Francis said. “Indifference and opposition have turned into cooperation and goodwill. From enemies and strangers, we have become friends and brothers.”
The Pope also took the unprecedented step of extending the idea of anti-Semitism to the State of Israel, which was understood to be especially directed at Middle Eastern countries and groups that deny Israel’s right to exist.
“To attack Jews is anti-Semitism, but an outright attack on the State of Israel is also anti-Semitism,” Francis said in a private audience with delegates from the World Jewish Congress (WJC). “There may be political disagreements between governments and on political issues, but the State of Israel has every right to exist in safety and prosperity,” he said.
Follow Thomas D. Williams on Twitter @tdwilliamsrome.