Scandal and Folly, Rabbis and Bishops

Eamonn Clark, STL

Of the many odd and troubling things going on in Rome right now, one thing in particular has recently caught my eye. It’s not some gay clique pulling power levers. It’s not embezzlement or fraud. It’s not even the suppression of traditional liturgy, though that, too, is of course heavy on my mind.

It’s the quasi-Judaizing.

No, Cardinal Koch is not calling for circumcision as a requirement for baptism, and to me he actually seems like a decent enough man. But here he is certainly implying that “Judaism” is its own way to eternal life, which seems a rather problematic position.

For context, the Pope gave a rather benign audience some weeks ago on Galatians, saying that following the Torah “does not give life,” rather, following Christ does. One could hardly imagine a less controversial take – and yet it is controversial because several high-profile Jews took offense.

Well, it is a scandal indeed. It’s a scandal precisely because Paul calls Christ crucified a “scandal to the Jews.” (1 Corinthians 1:23) And we see how the Lord was confronted by the Jews – Jews in flesh and name, but not in heart and mind… they killed and rejected Him, and some who believed in His resurrection would still not convert to Him. (Matthew 28:11-15) They continue, like Dives, to appeal to Abraham despite missing the meaning of Moses and the Prophets, but Lazarus will go on ahead of them. They do not recognize that the Father with Whom they have been dwelling, through His Incarnate Son, is the true inheritance, as the younger brother, the Prodigal Son discovered by mercy and experience – the seed of Esau has come home again, while the seed of Jacob has grown entitled, and they still fight over food and Isaac’s blessing. They do not see the justice of the workers late to the vineyard getting the same pay. They do not understand that they were only ever special to point to the coming of the very Christ Whom they do not accept. And now, the last shall be first, and the first shall be last, and to those who seem to have something, more will be given, and to those who have nothing, even what they seem to have will be taken away.

No amount of nuance and handwaving and dialogue can honestly escape the overwhelming thrust of both the Gospels and certainly the direct teaching of St. Paul on the matter of the real meaning of the Old Law and true Judaism. (And I do know that there is much written against “supersessionism.” In my view, it’s wrong. Feel free to make the opposite case in the comments – we can talk all about the precise meaning of Nostra Aetate if you want.) The Old Law, as St. Thomas explains at length and in detail (see qq. 98-105, 107; especially q. 100 a. 12), was a pedagogue to dispose to the reception of grace (“life”) and a sign of righteousness, but it did not give grace of itself; grace has always and only been obtained through the universal and invisible covenant of faith, made visible and particular in Christ on the Cross and in the Eucharist. Read Romans and Hebrews, for goodness’ sake.

Of all the good work done in interreligious dialogue – and I think there is plenty, lest I be accused of hyper-cynicism – I struggle to see how the work done with the Jews would not rank near the bottom. Surely, we can come to agreements about anti-Semitism, but beyond that, what is there to talk about other than what is precisely at issue in the Holy Father’s address, and to insist on it without any apology of any kind? Our Lord set the clearest example of how to preach to Jews, as did the Apostles. Gentiles, with their “unknown god” in the areopagus, can present more complicated problems (managing “folly” instead of managing “scandal” – cf. 1 Corinthians 1:23). But we, as Christians, are more truly Jewish than those who vainly cling to traditions which only point to what they themselves reject, who long for the Temple to be rebuilt, rather than embracing the living rebuilt temple which is the Risen Christ, in fulfillment of the Scriptures they read Sabbath after Sabbath; they are seeing and not perceiving, hearing and not understanding (Matthew 13:14; Mark 4:12)… And we are supposed to accept that they are walking the straight and narrow (and parallel) path to salvation because a few rabbis wrote some angry letters? It’s one thing for a sincere Jew never to have heard the Good News of Jesus preached; this – well, this is something different.

The list of scriptural passages and principles indicating the dynamic of the Jews in view of the end of their own specialness in favor of the universal covenant in Christ Jesus goes on and on and on. It’s almost like a main theme of the New Covenant… Hmm. The Cross stands outside Jerusalem, as a doorpost and lintel with the Blood of the true Lamb upon it, open enough for the whole world to fit through. Jonah’s plant has withered, but the Cross remains. One must walk through, and one must walk through freely, and enter into the protection of the house of life, the Church. Otherwise, the Angel of Death awaits for those unbelievers dwelling unconcerned down in Egypt. (Exodus 11:1-12:30)

One wonders how today’s Vatican “handlers” would have counseled St. Paul, for example, at the synagogue at Antioch in Pisidia (Acts 13:14-52). Without blunt speeches like this (and how many such examples are there in the New Testament?), it is true there would have been less controversy. How nice… But I do not remember the Lord saying He had come to bring peace – quite the opposite. (Matthew 10:34-36)

I say let Stephen give his speech to the Sanhedrin (Acts 7), even though he will be stoned. Maybe there is a Saul out there who consents to such things now but who will later come to his senses and be converted… and we will then welcome him as the brother he is and rejoice on his account. Let’s be clear then that it is not an issue of race – it is an issue of legal and cultural attachment over and against the reception of the Incarnate Son of God Who is hailed by the very fonts of the same law and culture. Welcome to the beginning of the ironies delivered to us in Sacred Scripture. Just wait until you learn what the Pharisees wore on their foreheads while arguing about righteousness with the Second Person of the Trinity.

We read in the same Galatians how St. Peter (Cephas) withdrew to eat alone with the Jewish converts for fear of offending them, and we read how St. Paul reacted:

But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood self-condemned; for until certain people came from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles. But after they came, he drew back and kept himself separate for fear of the circumcision faction. And the other Jews joined him in this hypocrisy, so that even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy. But when I saw that they were not acting consistently with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas before them all, “If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you compel the Gentiles to live like Jews?”

Galatians 2:11-14

If St. Paul stood up to St. Peter for his folly of being afraid of offending Jewish converts, we should stand up to the counselors of St. Peter’s successors for their folly of being afraid of offending Jews themselves, no?

Well, at least we can blog about it.

Ss. Peter and Paul, pray for us.

3 thoughts on “Scandal and Folly, Rabbis and Bishops

  1. Great post and well written as always Eamonn. I don’t understand the controversy around “supersessionism.” The Jews are not rejected by God, anymore than anyone else is, but I don’t see how the Old Covenant can be the source of salvific grace?

    Like

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