The Jewish Roots of Our Christian Faith

The Jewish Roots of Our Christian Faith

I recently completed a formative course entitled The Jewish Roots of Christianity. The course rested mainly on four pillars: first, an introduction to Judaism. Second, the Jewish prayer and the festivals and how they influenced our Christian liturgy. Third, the Church Documents in relation to Judaism from Vatican II up to the present day. And, finally, the Jewish roots of the Christian faith.

Even if the Jewish-Christian relationship has never been a rosy one, it is nevertheless important that it is promoted in the hope of being purified and strengthened. We all know what the famous declaration on the relationship of the Church to Non-Christian Religions, Nostra Aetate, says about the special relationship which we Christians have with Jews:

“As the sacred synod searches into the mystery of the Church, it remembers the bond that spiritually ties the people of the New Covenant to Abraham’s stock. Thus the Church of Christ acknowledges that, according to God’s saving design, the beginnings of her faith and her election are found already among the Patriarchs, Moses and the prophets. She professes that all who believe in Christ-Abraham’s sons according to faith -are included in the same Patriarch’s call, and likewise that the salvation of the Church is mysteriously foreshadowed by the chosen people’s exodus from the land of bondage. The Church, therefore, cannot forget that she received the revelation of the Old Testament through the people with whom God in His inexpressible mercy concluded the Ancient Covenant. Nor can she forget that she draws sustenance from the root of that well-cultivated olive tree onto which have been grafted the wild shoots, the Gentiles. Indeed, the Church believes that by His cross Christ, Our Peace, reconciled Jews and Gentiles making both one in Himself” (no.4).

How powerful are the words of Nostra Aetate when it speaks of that “bond that spiritually ties the people of the New Covenant to Abraham’s stock!” The same number of this very important declaration concerning Judaism itself, further explains this bond by saying:

“The Church keeps ever in mind the words of the Apostle about his kinsmen: ‘theirs is the sonship and the glory and the covenants and the law and the worship and the promises; theirs are the fathers and from them is the Christ according to the flesh’ (Rom. 9:4-5), the Son of the Virgin Mary. She also recalls that the Apostles, the Church’s main-stay and pillars, as well as most of the early disciples who proclaimed Christ’s Gospel to the world, sprang from the Jewish people. As Holy Scripture testifies, Jerusalem did not recognize the time of her visitation, nor did the Jews in large number, accept the Gospel; indeed not a few opposed its spreading. Nevertheless, God holds the Jews most dear for the sake of their Fathers; He does not repent of the gifts He makes or of the calls He issues-such is the witness of the Apostle. In company with the Prophets and the same Apostle, the Church awaits that day, known to God alone, on which all peoples will address the Lord in a single voice and ‘serve him shoulder to shoulder’ (Soph. 3:9)” (no.4).

Additionally, the same declaration affirms that “since the spiritual patrimony common to Christians and Jews is thus so great, this sacred synod wants to foster and recommend that mutual understanding and respect which is the fruit, above all, of biblical and theological studies as well as of fraternal dialogues.” (no.4)

In the 1974 document issued by the Commission For Religious Relations with the Jews titled: Guidelines and Suggestions For Implementing The Conciliar Declaration “Nostra Aetate” (n.4) we find a very powerful orientation towards dialogue with the Jews. In number 1 of this document we find: “Dialogue demands respect for the other as he is; above all, respect for his faith and his religious convictions” (I). Towards the end of this document one gets a very profound clue of what fruitful dialogue should lead to: joint social action. In fact, it says the Guidelines highlight that “in the spirit of the prophets, Jews and Christians will work willingly together, seeking social justice and peace at every level – local, national and international. At the same time, such collaboration can do much to foster mutual understanding and esteem.” (VI) The abundant good fruit of dialogue are often translated into concrete actions fueled by solidarity towards the needy.

The common heritage which spiritually links Christians and Jews should make us, Christians, more responsible in putting the Jews and Judaism at the right perspective especially when teaching catechism. Powerful are the words of the document issued by the Commission For Religious Relations with the Jews in 1985, entitled: On the Correct way to present the Jews and Judaism in preaching and catechesis in the Roman Catholic Church: “The Jews and Judaism should not occupy an occasional and marginal place in catechesis: their presence there is essential and should be organically integrated.” (no.2) The same text refers to the often misunderstood passage that Jesus was somehow against or distant from the Pharisees. The reality is precisely the opposite! “It may also be stressed that, if Jesus shows himself severe towards the Pharisees, it is because he is closer to them than to other contemporary Jewish groups.” (cf. supra n. 17) (no III.8) And this is ultra normal because you tend to sound a bit harsh towards who mostly care about!

During this course I was made aware of a very important point when talking about Jesus and the Jews. Many a time there are many who, erroneously, condemn the Jews of our time for being responsible for Jesus’ death. Such a claim is incorrect, disrespectul and false. The document On the Correct way to present the Jews and Judaism in preaching and catechesis in the Roman Catholic Church, openly says that: “‘What happened in (Christ’s) passion cannot be blamed upon all the Jews then living without distinction nor upon the Jews of today’, especially since ‘authorities of the Jews and those who followed their lead pressed for the death of Christ’. Again, further on: ‘Christ in his boundless love freely underwent his passion and death because of the sins of all men, so that all might attain salvation’” (Nostra Aetate4) (IV.2)

Before any theological dialogue with our brothers the Jews we Christians have to understand that what we need to cultivate is the dialogue of life. In other words, as we find written in the document by the Pontifical Council for Inter-religious dialogue, called Dialogue and Proclamation: Reflection and Orientations On Interreligious Dialogue And the Proclamation Of the Gospel of Jesus Christ: “The dialogue of life, where people strive to live in an open and neighbourly spirit, sharing their joys and sorrows, their human problems and preoccupations.” (no.42)

If Jews and Christians have a special bond between them, if they are brothers, if they claim that they have a common heritage and spiritual partimony, if they commit themselves to upkeep their fraternal relations then, as Saint John Paul II said in his address to the Central Council of German Jewry and to the Conference of Rabbis in Mainz on 17 November 1980:

“Jews and Christians, as children of Abraham, are called to be a blessing for the world … , by committing themselves together for peace and justice among all men and peoples, with the fullness and depth that God himself intended us to have, and with the readiness for sacrifices that this goal may demand”.

I want to thank wholeheartedly the Pastoral Formation Institute and our extremely competent lecturers Dr. Joseph Ciappara, Fr Jesmond Manicaro, Fr Martin Micallef OFM Cap, Fr Stefan Attard, Fr Paul Sciberras and Sr Margaret Shepherd NDS for helping us integrate all this fruitful learning. Finally, I want to thank Ms Christina Manara and Dr. Joseph Ciappara for their invaluable work in organizing and facilitating this very valid pastoral formation course. Their complete dedication bore abundant good fruits among us, the participants of the course.

Jewish-Christian relations are significant steps towards that wholeness which the Bible powerfully speaks of, namely when Christ is all, and in all! (Col 3:11) 

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Written by
Fr Mario Attard OFM Cap