The Zionist Conspiracy
Friday, November 18, 2005
More On Conversion of Jews After Nostra Aetate
I realize that many readers of this blog do not care what adherents of other religions think about Jews. I think that's a completely legitimate viewpoint. My interest in the theology of other religions is in this regard largely sociological, rather than an attempt at interfaith religious dialogue, which traditional Judaism rejects.
In my second semester of law school, we were required to take a silly class called Perspectives On Legal Thought. Early in the semester, the professor lectured about the controversy related to placing religious symbols in public places. The examples she used were that of a cross appearing in a public sphere, and an eruv.
I raised my hand and told the professor that the analogy of an eruv and a cross was not a good one, because while a cross is indeed a religious symbol, an eruv relates to religious observance, by creating a legal fiction that allows one to carry on the sabbath. Furthermore, an eruv is essentially invisible, consisting of poles, cables and wires that few if anyone would even notice is there.
Naively, I expected the professor to thank me for the clarification. Instead, she stubbornly responded that she thought I was wrong, and that we would have to agree to disagree.
I mention this anecdote to note that one should be very hesitant about challenging someone's else's statements concerning the other's person's religion.
In a post on Tuesday, I disputed Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein's statement that Catholicism accepts that Jews need not accept Jesus, in particular because Vatican II held that God's "covenant with the Jews has never been broken."
Joseph A. Tranfo of the Benedict blog argues that I'm wrong. Joe's main argument relates to his citing of a Catechism of the Catholic Church, along with related commentary on the Catechism that states: "Those also can attain to salvation who through no fault of their own do not know the Gospel of Christ or His Church, yet sincerely seek God and moved by grace strive by their deeds to do His will as it is known to them through the dictates of conscience." Joe notes that a number of Catholic theologians accept "that salvation is available outside of formal membership in the Catholic Church," and thus concludes that Jews "can be saved" without accepting Jesus.
I appreciate the post in Benedict, but do not believe the matter is as straightforward as suggested there. While I do not wish to take issue with a devout Catholic who surely knows much more about his religion's theology than I do, I will offer the following comments and thoughts.
1. It is interesting that Benedict's argument resembles the contemporary approach of Orthodox Judaism to a non-observant Jew, holding that the latter has the status of a tinok shenishba and is therefore not judged negatively for failure to observe the Torah.
2. At the very least, Benedict's argument disputes Rabbi Adlerstein's assertion that under Catholic theology, God's covenant with the Jews is what allows them to get into heaven. The issue, instead, is whether "through no fault of their own" a person is ignorant about Jesus. Benedict does not dispute that Catholicism rejects a dual-covenant theory.
3. Indeed, an article by Avery Cardinal Dulles in the November issue of First Things (the article was first cited by Gil Student) which just became available online yesterday confirms this.
Dulles unequivocally rejects the dual-covenant theory, writing that it is unthinkable that the Gospels "would be proposing salvation for Jews apart from Christ." However, supporting Benedict, Dulles also writes: "The Catholic Church clearly teaches that no one will be condemned for unbelief, or for incomplete belief, without having sinned against the light. Those who with good will follow the movements of GodÂ?s grace in their own lives are on the road to salvation. They are not required to profess belief in Christ unless or until they are in a position to recognize him as Messiah and Lord."
4. The first question then become at what point a person is deemed to be "in a position" to accept Jesus, and at what point, rejection is Jesus is not something accepted as a choice that one makes "through no fault of their own."
The next question is whether not being "condemned" and being "on the road to salvation" is the same thing as being allowed "a back door into heaven," to use Rabbi Adlerstein's phrase.
5. It seems to me that a broad construction of Catholic theology probably could support Benedict's conclusion by letting God decide who is and who isn't at "fault" for their religious decisions. But a liberal interpretation of that sort is not only inconsistent with the history of Catholicism's approach toward Jews, but one that remains a minority view.
As for whether being "on the road to salvation" is the same actually being "saved," it would seem to me that this is at best questionable.