Action Alert!

A Jewish Defense of Vatican II?

By Dr. Jeff Mirus ( bio - articles - email ) | Oct 26, 2010

At a press conference explaining the final message of the Synod for the Middle East, Archbishop Cyrille Salim Bustros said, among many other things, that

the Holy Scriptures cannot be used to justify the return of Jews to Israel and the displacement of the Palestinians, to justify the occupation by Israel of Palestinian lands…. We Christians cannot speak of the 'promised land' as an exclusive right for a privileged Jewish people. This promise was nullified by Christ. There is no longer a chosen people—all men and women of all countries have become the chosen people.

This statement is fairly sharp, perhaps a trifle too sharp, and it does tend to over-simplify the theological question of the permanent election of the Jewish people. It is also somewhat peculiar that this pointed remark was made on behalf of the Synod of Bishops for the Middle East by the Melkite Greek Catholic bishop of Newton, Massachusetts. These caveats aside, however, as a Christian statement it is substantially correct and, in any case, nothing so provocative appeared in the Synod's final document.

Nonetheless, the statement was very predictably denounced in shock and horror by both the State of Israel and the American Jewish Committee. The Israeli Deputy Foreign minister expressed his “disappointment” that the synod had become a political forum “in the best history of Arab propaganda”. And Rabbi David Rosen of the AJC took it upon himself to instruct Archbishop Bustros in the tenets of the Catholic Faith:

The comments of Archbishop Bustros reflect either shocking ignorance or insubordination in relation to the Catholic Church's teaching on Jews and Judaism flowing from the Vatican II declaration Nostra Aetate. That declaration affirms the eternal covenant between God and the Jewish People, which is inextricably bound up with the Land of Israel. We urge the Vatican to issue a clear repudiation of Archbishop Bustros's outrageous and regressive comments.

Now having just reread the documents of Vatican II, I was surprised I did not recall Nostra Aetate affirming “the eternal covenant between God and the Jewish People, which is inextricably bound up with the Land of Israel”. So I double-checked the text and found that Rabbi Rosen has considerably altered the sense of Nostra Aetate (the Council’s Declaration on the Relation of the Church to Non-Christian Religions). In fact, the Declaration simply seeks to emphasize the close ties between Christianity and Judaism, in order to highlight the profound respect which Christians ought to accord to Judaism.

At the risk of quoting too much in a short space, the closest the Conciliar text comes to what Rabbi Rosen wants is this:

The Church of Christ acknowledges that in God's plan of salvation the beginning of her faith and election is to be found in the patriarchs, Moses and the prophets. She professes that all Christ's faithful, who as men of faith are sons of Abraham (cf. Gal. 3:7), are included in the same patriarch's call and that the salvation of the Church is mystically prefigured in the exodus of God's chosen people from the land of bondage. On this account the Church cannot forget that she received the revelation of the Old Testament by way of that people with whom God in his inexpressible mercy established the ancient covenant. Nor can she forget that she draws nourishment from that good olive tree onto which the wild olive branches of the Gentiles have been grafted (cf. Rom. 11:17-24). The Church believes that Christ who is our peace has through his cross reconciled Jews and Gentiles and made them one in himself (cf. Eph. 2:14-16).

So where Rabbi Rosen speaks of the “eternal” covenant, Vatican II speaks of the “ancient” covenant. And where Rabbi Rosen speaks of the “Land of Israel” as inextricably bound up with the covenant, Vatican II says the covenant’s central business is the preparation of the Jews for Jesus Christ, who “has through his cross reconciled Jews and Gentiles and made them one in himself.”

Rabbi Rosen joins many wayward Catholics in asserting that the Council means neither more nor less than what he wants it to mean. And I am sure there are other wayward Catholics who will dismiss his inaccuracy by arguing that the Council was either heretical, vague or foolishly optimistic, and so it richly deserves its own misuse. But what we really have here is another great and shining proof of one of the guiding axioms of

When it comes to claims about Vatican II, check the text.

Jeffrey Mirus holds a Ph.D. in intellectual history from Princeton University. A co-founder of Christendom College, he also pioneered Catholic Internet services. He is the founder of Trinity Communications and See full bio.

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  • Posted by: Justin8110 - Nov. 08, 2010 6:26 PM ET USA

    I don't think he was too sharp at all. The Church has taught exactly what he said in so many ways for the last 2000 years. Sure, he could have been more tactful about it but in some ways in this age of "nuance" and constant ambiguity his statement is like a breath of fresh air. E. Michael Jones gave a talk about this same topic and came to similar conclusions as you. Nostra Aetate doesn't say what the Jews want it to say, period, close the book.

  • Posted by: rickbookwalter2359 - Oct. 26, 2010 9:13 PM ET USA

    "When it comes to claims about Vatican II, check the text." Most excellent advice, keep up the good work...