Nostra Aetate and the Good Friday Prayer
 Pope accused of fomenting “anti-Semitic riots”?

Christopher A. Ferrara

(Posted 4/15/08 The Good Friday prayer controversy continues to rage, and has now achieved proportions that are at once both comic and alarming. Responding to continued pressure from liberal Jewish spokesmen, including Abe Foxman and Walter Homolka, the Vatican Secretariat of State issued a “communiqué” on April 4th that purported to “clarify” the meaning of the revised prayer.

In the days leading up to the communiqué, Rabbi David Rosen, chairman of the International Jewish Committee on Interreligious Consultations, was engaged in an effort to preempt its content by claiming that Cardinal Walter Kasper—who else?—had assured him that Cardinal Bertone “will issue a statement formally confirming his own assurances to us that the text is only eschatological, that the church is opposed to all proselytism, that the church respects the Jewish people and it recognizes the eternal validity of God’s covenant with the Jewish people.” (CNS, March 14, 2008).

Bertone failed to deliver the goods, although I have no doubt that this ecclesial politician schmoozed Rosen privately with precisely the assurances Rosen reported. This, after all, is the same Vatican prelate who tells us with a straight face that Our Lady of Fatima had absolutely nothing to say about the meaning of the “vision of the Bishop in white,” and that she left it to him and his predecessor, Cardinal Sodano, to provide an interpretation (in 2000) 83 years after the Fatima apparitions.

According to Bertone’s communiqué—whose doctrinal value is, of course, nil—the revised Good Friday prayer “in no way intends to indicate a change in the Catholic Church’s regard for the Jews which has evolved from the basis of the Second Vatican Council, particularly the Declaration Nostra Aetate.” What exactly is this “regard for the Jews” that “evolved” from Vatican II and Nostra Aetate? Did the Church not have any regard for the Jews before 1965?

We have heard quite enough about what Nostra Aetate is supposed to mean, and not nearly enough about what this rather jejune document really says. While people like Foxman and Homolka present it as a repudiation of the Church’s teaching on the passing away of the Old Covenant and the consequent necessity of Jewish conversion to Christ for salvation, it actually teaches nothing of the kind. Nostra Aetate contains (by my count) a grand total of 625 words in eight paragraphs pertaining to the Jewish people. When one examines the operative phrases in this short passage, one finds an irenic tone enwrapping assorted affirmations that are completely consistent with the teaching of the Church, as seen particularly in the Pauline texts of the New Testament:

·                     “…the Church… remembers the bond that spiritually ties the people of the New Covenant to Abraham’s stock.”

·                     “…the beginnings of her [the Catholic Church’s] faith and her election are found already among the Patriarchs, Moses and the prophets.”

·                     “She [the Church] 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.”

·                     “…she [the Church] received the revelation of the Old Testament through the people with whom God in His inexpressible mercy concluded the Ancient Covenant.”

·                     “…she [the Church] draws sustenance from the root of that well-cultivated olive tree onto which have been grafted the wild shoots, the Gentiles.”

·                     “…the Church believes that by His cross Christ, Our Peace, reconciled Jews and Gentiles, making both one in Himself.”

·                     “She [the Church] 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.”

·                     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.”

·                     “…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.’”

·                     “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.”

·                     True, the Jewish authorities and those who followed their lead pressed for the death of Christ; still, what happened in His passion cannot be charged against all the Jews, without distinction, then alive, nor against the Jews of today.”

·                     “Although the Church is the new people of God, the Jews should not be presented as rejected or accursed by God, as if this followed from the Holy Scriptures.”

·                     “…the Church, mindful of the patrimony she shares with the Jews and moved not by political reasons but by the Gospel's spiritual love, decries hatred, persecutions, displays of anti-Semitism, directed against Jews at any time and by anyone.”

·                     “Christ underwent His passion and death freely, because of the sins of men and out of infinite love, in order that all may reach salvation. It is, therefore, the burden of the Church’s preaching to proclaim the cross of Christ as the sign of God’s all-embracing love and as the fountain from which every grace flows.”

When read with discernment and in the light of Tradition, Nostra Aetate conveys nothing more than what Saint Paul and the New Testament as a whole teach. And, by noting that Jewish leaders and their followers (but not all of the Jews) pressed for the death of Christ, it would appear that Nostra Aetate—irony of ironies—is just as “anti-Semitic” as the Good Friday prayer.

It must be noted in particular that Nostra Aetate’s declaration that “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” is straight from Saint Paul:

As concerning the gospel, indeed, they are enemies for your sake: but as touching the election, they are most dear for the sake of the fathers. For the gifts and the calling of God are without repentance. For as you also in times past did not believe God, but now have obtained mercy, through their unbelief; So these also now have not believed, for your mercy, that they also may obtain mercy.  (Romans 11:29-31)

That is, God still wills the salvation of the Jews, and still calls them to the Church and to His mercy despite their unbelief, just as the Gentiles, despite their unbelief, were called to the Church and received His mercy.

So, despite its irenic tone and a certain softening of meaning difficult to isolate linguistically, there is nothing in Nostra Aetate that even remotely teaches what Foxman and company claim: that the Old Covenant remains salvific for the Jews and that Jews have no need of Christ for salvation. Nostra Aetate, like the other problematic documents of the Council, vaguely savors of a change that is not really there.

Granted, Bertone’s “communiqué”—the Magisterium does not issue communiqués, diplomats do—hardly dispels this illusion of change. It declares that “the continuation of the position found in Nostra Aetate is clearly shown by the fact that the prayer contained in the 1970 Missal continues to be in full use, and is the ordinary form of the prayer of Catholics.” And what, precisely, is this “position” found in Nostra Aetate? As summarized by the communiqué itself, it is as follows:

 … Nostra Aetate presents the fundamental principles which have sustained and today continue to sustain the bonds of esteem, dialogue, love, solidarity and collaboration between Catholics and Jews. It is precisely while examining the mystery of the Church that Nostra Aetate recalls the unique bond with which the people of the New Testament is spiritually linked with the stock of Abraham and rejects every attitude of contempt or discrimination against Jews, firmly repudiating any kind of Anti-Semitism.

So, the “position” of Nostra Aetate is: esteem, dialogue, love, solidarity and collaboration between Catholics and Jews, a recognition that the New Testament is linked with the stock of Abraham, and a rejection of anti-Semitism. Of doctrinal change Bertone says not a thing, because there is nothing to say.  But the interpreter of Fatima visions does offer a large dollop of diplomatic verbosity.  Come to think of it, so do the documents of Vatican II, including Nostra Aetate.

The communiqué concludes with this diplomatic gem: “The Holy See hopes that the explanations made in this statement will help to clarify any misunderstanding….” Not only has Bertone clarified nothing, he has failed utterly to provide the preposterous capitulation he probably promised Rosen: a statement that the Old Covenant endures, and that “proselytization” of the Jews is therefore to be rejected.  Pretending not to notice the egg on his face, Rosen nevertheless pronounced the communiqué  “an important clarification which I would have been happier to see made explicit—that if one accepts ‘Nostra Aetate,’ then they [sic] must demonstrate esteem for Judaism, which precludes proselytism.”

Oh come on, now. Notice how Rosen supplies his own false premise and the resulting false conclusion: Nostra Aetate mandates esteem for Judaism. Therefore, Nostra Aetate precludes proselytization of the Jews. But neither the communiqué nor Nostra Aetate says anything about Catholic esteem for Judaism as such—i.e., the superseded religion of the Old Covenant—but rather both documents speak only of “mutual understanding and respect” between Catholics and Jews as people. As Rosen was forced to admit (according to The Jewish Chronicle), “the April 4 statement does not contain all of the elements he had been told in early March would be included in a clarification from Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, Vatican Secretary of State.” This is Rosen’s way of saying that Bertone hoodwinked him.

Abe Foxman, who did not have to save face, rather comically demanded a revision of Bertone’s “clarification” of the revision (of the Good Friday prayer):

On this issue, the Vatican has taken two steps forward and three steps backward…. [I]t is troubling that the statement still does not specifically say that the Catholic Church is opposed to proselytizing Jews. The statement does not go far enough to allay concerns about how the message of this prayer will be understood by the people in the pews. The Latin prayer is still out there, and stands by itself, and unless this statement will be read along with the prayer, it will not repair or mitigate the impact of the words of the prayer itself, with its call for Jews to recognize Jesus as the savior of all men and its hope that ‘all Israel will be saved.’ The impact of those words is undeniable, and we wish the Vatican had explicitly rejected calls to conversion or to proselytizing Jews. (ADL Press Release, April 4, 2008).

That is, Foxman expects the Vatican to issue yet another statement—this one declaring that Jews have no obligation to convert to Christ as the savior of all men. Foxman is his name. Chutzpah is his game.

We move from chutzpah to outright mendacity with a statement by the eponymous Rabbi Mark Winer of the West London Reform Synagogue. Winer complains that “expressions of Jewish anger… have reached a level I do not recall in my lifetime of dialogue, as a rabbi, with the Catholic Church. Rabbinical bodies in some countries have forbidden their rabbis from participating in dialogue with representatives of the Holy See. Antisemitic riots and incidents have occurred in more than a few places..” (The Jewish Chronicle, April 4, 2008).

Anti-Semitic riots and incidents on account of the Good Friday prayer, he says!  As the Rorate Caeli blog site aptly comments:

Really? “Antisemitic riots and incidents”? Where? When? There have been many Antisemitic (and Anti-Christian) “riots” in the past few months—but all related to another Monotheistic faith...

Isn’t Rabbi Winer ashamed of lying so openly? Rabbi Winer: the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob can see you!

Sounding the theme of liberal Jewish opposition around the world, Winer argues that “the fact that it [the revised prayer] was officially sanctioned by Pope Benedict—even if only for the recitation by a tiny minority of Catholics—gives credence to the fear, expressed by some, that the Catholic Church is retrogressing to its history of antisemitism. The Pope’s approval of the Latin text touches a raw nerve in the deeply engrained psyche of the Jewish people.” Yet again we are informed that for Catholics to pray for the salvation of the Jews by Christ is anti-Semitism per se, and that the Pope is personally responsible for this return to the Church’s habitual anti-Semitism.

Bertone apparently intends to give Winer’s whining diplomatic top priority.  Such matters are, naturally, far more urgent than what Our Lady of Fatima had to say about the Pope who is executed by soldiers on a hill outside a half-ruined city filled with cadavers. As The Jewish Chronicle reports: “The Pope’s British envoy is to visit West London Reform Synagogue on Shabbat amid what its rabbi calls the ‘most acute crisis’ in Jewish-Catholic relations in the past 20 years. Rabbi Mark Winer will publicly bring up the controversy sparked by the Pope’s endorsement of a Good Friday prayer which openly calls for the conversion of the Jews. Archbishop Faustino Sainz Muñoz, the Apostolic Nuncio, is due to preach at the synagogue’s Shabbat morning service and to take part in a post-kiddush discussion with Rabbi Winer.”

Yes, no less than the Apostolic Nuncio to England, an attaché of the Vatican Secretariat of State, has been directed by Bertone to go to Temple in an effort to placate the implacable Winer.  Not to be outdone in the chutzpah department, Winer has drafted an address for the occasion in which “he calls for the prayer to be revised and for Archbishop Muñoz and the Church ‘to hear our pain.’”

So, Winer is demanding a revision of the revised prayer. Can he possibly be serious? What contempt Winer must have for the Pope that he would even make such an insolent and abusive request—as if the Vicar of Christ should continue submitting drafts of the prayer until it meets with final editorial approval by Winer, Foxman, Homolka, Rosen and whoever else wishes to join the deputation of censors. I suppose this is a consequence of the Pope having acceded to demands for a revision of the prayer in the first place. As I asked on these pages two weeks before the revision happened, concerning possible demands for revision of other traditional prayers of the Church: “And where will it end?”

But surely not even people as nervy as Winer can really think that any further revision of this prayer is in the offing.  No, they are stuck with the Good Friday prayer as revised. And now they realize, too late, that they should have been careful what they wished for, because they have gotten it. Hence a level of furor never seen at any time with respect to the unamended traditional prayer.

All of this furor, mind you, because 1/1000 of the Catholic population of the world recites, on one day of the year, a prayer that petitions God for the enlightenment of the Jewish people so that they may acknowledge Jesus Christ, the savior of all mankind. Winer, Foxman, Homolka and the rest of this chorus of the unappeasable evidently presume that thanks to the Second Vatican Council, 999/1000 of the Church are sufficiently quiescent to their demands for capitulation.  Only the remaining thousandth stands in the way of total submission.

What does this tell us about the “Spirit of Vatican II”? And what does this tell us about the supernatural efficacy of the traditional Roman liturgy, which these Christophobic  demagogues fear more than the collective worship of 999,000,000 Catholics in the Novus Ordo? Surely Providence is behind this ever more dramatic demonstration—it is really quite amazing to watch—of just how much the enemies of the Church fear and loathe traditional Roman Catholicism.

Stymied by the Pope’s actions, they who demand that the Church repudiate the conversion of the Jews are now drumming up fears of “anti-Semitic riots” and “incidents” for which the Pope will be held accountable unless the revised prayer is revised again.  These antics are comical, yes, but the intent behind them is deadly serious. For if they were able to do so, Winer and his collaborators around the world would criminalize mere utterance of a Catholic prayer for the conversion of the Jews. He and others are clearly attempting, quite lamely for the moment, to build a record for that very purpose.

What is happening here is that the Motu Proprio freeing the traditional Mass and (however inadvertently) the revision of the traditional Good Friday prayer, are just enough to make it apparent that the Church Militant is not dead, and may only have been sleeping—so they fear—these past forty years. In a world that was so certain the Church had been overcome, even these small signs of a Catholic reawakening are enough to bring outright persecution down upon the Pope and every member of the faithful. We must be ready for this, even as we pray that it passes us by.