Saturday, November 15, 2008

All things new

In my post of 15 July 2007, I underlined the "no surrender" theme underlying the Roman Catholic view of ecumenism. I have seen no reason to change my mind since. This ecumenism has concentrated on unification within the Christian churches.

We thought we had dealt with the Jews. The coming and crucifixion of Christ had rendered them theologically superfluous. Judaism prepared the way. Christ came and took over the helm. Christians are now the chosen people. At least that is how I understood what I was taught in school.

Imagine my surprise to hear on the radio the other day that attempts are now being made to reconcile the theologies of Judaism and Christianity which involve Christians accepting that the Jews have an ongoing and valid covenant with God.

This was the subject of a lecture by John McDade, SJ, in town on last Thursday night. Fr. McDade is a Glaswegian, with Irish roots, and he is currently principal of Heythrop College which is the Specialist Philosophy and Theology College of the University of London.

The gist of his thesis is that Judaism and Christianity are interdependent and have their own distinct missions in this world. Christianity did not supercede God's covenant with Israel but rather fulfilled it. Both faiths are siblings in the family of Israel. Judaism is a non proselytising religion. Christianity is a proselytising one and can therefore widen the scope of the family of Israel.

In this light, Paul’s remarkable statement in Romans gains in significance: ‘Christ became a servant of the circumcision on behalf of the truth of God, in order to confirm the promises given to the patriarchs and in order that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy’ (Rom 15.8).

This thinking was further developed by Thomas Aquinas and John Paul II.

I must confess that these are new and challenging ideas and their subtlety is totally beyond me.

One of Fr. McDade's remarks did resonnate with me. In asking why we are embarking on this reconciliation at this time he ventured to wonder if Christianity was now being marginalised by the world in the same way as Christianity itself had marginalised the Jews over two millennia. Circling the wagons is a concept I understand more readily.

I also wonder, if this theology of complementarity has been brewing since the time of St. Paul, how I was served up such a lethal, exclusive and triumphalist cocktail in school? Perhaps I should not even think the question and, rather, adopt a stance of constructive amnesia.

If you wish to pursue these thoughts further, you might like to read Fr. McDade's article on which he based his lecture.

Insights in the form of comments would be most welcome.


Benny the Bridgebuilder said...

It has been suggested to me that a superficial and incomplete reading of the above post might lead to the conclusion that it was anti-semitic. The only answer to that is to read the full post.

And while I'm at it, I am reassured that I have adequately represented Fr. McDaid's views.

He has written me that he is happy that "I wrote so well" about his presentation and he adds the following elucidation:

I think it's not so much an attempt to bring together Judaism and Christianity in a synthesis -- given the way both faiths have developed, that would be artificial and impossible -- but an attempt to think through the need to acknowledge that God's work in Israel is unfinished: as Paul recognises, it cannot be the case that God has gone back on the promises he has made to Israel and it cannot be said that Israel's refusal to accept Jesus has caused them to be expelled from God's covenantal promises. If these things are true then we need to think again about Jews. We're seeing a new tradition developing in this area, perhaps for the first time since the earliest community of Jews who came to faith in Jesus as Messiah and Lord.

Benny the Bridgebuilder said...

I have just read that John McDade has applied to leave the priesthood and the Jesuit order.

I see from my tracker that people have been Googling McDade and marriage so I wonder if that is in the frame.