Once Christianity described its scripture “New Testament” and Jewish scripture as “old” it already defined Judaism “superseded”
On October 23, 2010 American archbishop Monsignor Cyril Salim Bustros, head of the Vatican committee that drafted the final report for the Special Assembly for the Middle East of the Synod of Bishops, told a press conference, “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.” Jews worldwide were outraged, appeared surprised that a Church spokesman could hold, to say nothing of express such a view. Which raises two questions: How representative of Christian theology and belief are the archbishop’s views, and; How is it that we Jews continue to be “surprised” by its expression by important members of the Vatican hierarchy?
“This promise was nullified by Christ.”
Supersessionism, or Replacement Theology, refers to and justifies what Archbishop Bustros is above quoted as saying, that for believers in Jesus a new covenant exists, no longer between God and the Jewish people but with the Christians, the self-called “new Israel.” The five examples below illustrate the evolution of the theology, and its place underlying centuries of persecution of the Jews leading, but not necessarily ending, with the Holocaust of the 20th century.
Although Supersessionism is formally attributed to St. Augustine, beginnings of a Replacement Theology are already present in the epistles of Paul, the father of Christianity, and in the four canonical gospels. According to Paul, Galatians 3:29, “If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham''s seed, and heirs according to the promise.” In his efforts to attract the pagans to the messianic sect Paul introduced “circumcision of the heart” as an “alternative” for physical circumcision as representing the covenant with God. And while he does not by this exclude the Jews, his expansion goes a long way towards the creation of a religious group distinct from normative Judaism. The John gospel author(s) clearly go beyond Paul in accusing the Jews as “children of the devil.” In John, 8, for example, “Ye are of your father the devil,” which clearly describes the Jews as no longer enjoying God’s favor.
Marcion, ca. (85-160) concluded that the teachings of Jesus were incompatible with and in opposition to the God of Jewish scripture. Since the Church saw itself as inheritor of the Jewish covenant, this was considered heresy and he was excommunicated. It fell on the patristic father, Origen, c. 185 – 254, to state openly what was implicit, that Christianity is the fulfillment of Judaism, and that the God of the Jews transferred his covenant to the Christians. Christianity superseded Judaism.
But it is with St. Augustine, (354–430) that a formal theology of supersessionism was developed which was to be accepted by the Church down to the present. While the Church always had the problem of explaining the continuing existence of Jews in a post-Jesus world, Augustine concluded that the purpose of Jewish survival was to bear witness to the true faith. Augustine argued that God allowed the Jews to survive, debased and in dispersion, as warning to Christian deviation: they “bear the guilt for the death of the Savior, for through their fathers they have killed Christ.” Augustine, City of God, Chapter 20. “The Jews who slew Him, and would not believe in Him,” were punished by God. And, as if in response to the underlying insecurity at the heart of Christianity, Augustine wrote that, “by their own Scriptures [Jewish survival is] a testimony to us that we have not forged the prophecies about Christ.”
Martin Luther (1483 - 1546) may be described as the first “modern” antisemite. With Luther replacement came to mean eradication. As a Supersessionist he wrote, “Listen, Jew, are you aware that Jerusalem and your sovereignty, together with your temple and priesthood, have been destroyed for over 1,460 years?’. . . This work of wrath is proof that the Jews, surely rejected by God, are no longer his people, and neither is he any longer their God…” Luther continues, “Therefore the Jews have lost this promise, no matter how much they boast of their father Abraham. . . . They are no longer the people of God.”
But Luther took supersessionism to the next level, the elimination of Jews and Judaism. In On the Jews and their Lies, 1543, Luther wrote, “What then shall we do with this damned, rejected race of Jews?
“First, their synagogues or churches should be set on fire, and whatever does not burn up should be covered or spread over with dirt so that no one may ever be able to see a cinder or stone of it. And this ought to be done for the honor of God and of Christianity
“Secondly, their homes should likewise be broken down and destroyed.
“Fourthly, their rabbis must be forbidden under threat of death to teach any more…,” and so on.
In his seminal volume Christian Antisemitism, A History of Hate, available for download, former Anglican minister and professor William Nichols writes, “At his trial in Nuremberg after the Second World War Julius Streicher, the notorious Nazi propagandist, editor of the scurrilous antisemitic weekly, Der Sturmer, argued that if he should be standing there arraigned on such charges, so should Martin Luther.”
The Jewish Response, three points of reference
Israel’s Deputy Foreign Minister, Danny Ayalon was outraged: "We are especially appalled at the language used by Archbishop Bustros during his press conference." Ayalon said, "We call on the Vatican to distance themselves from Archbishop Bustros'' comments, which are a libel against the Jewish People and the State of Israel and should not be construed as the Vatican''s official position. These outrageous comments should not cast a shadow over the important relationship between the Vatican, the State of Israel and the Jewish People."
Marc Tracy, an editor of the Jewish on-line journal, Tablet: “Speaking at a press conference, Greek Melkite Archbishop Cyrille Salim Bustros—who is actually based in Newton, Massachusetts (so you would think he would have some sense of relations with Jews)…”
And Abe Foxman of the Anti-Defamation League, “called the remarks by Archbishop Cyril Salim Bustros, "the worst kind of anti-Judaism, bordering on anti-Semitism."
All three of our representatives appear to consider the remarks by the archbishop as exceptional, deviant from Vatican historical and current position on the Jews and Judaism. The American journalist, Marc Tracy, sounds amazed and offended that the archbishop, himself an American, could be so insensitive to American Jewish sensitivities; Abe Foxman takes the cleric to task for remarks, “bordering on anti-Semitism”; while Israel’s representative to the world would have the Vatican denounce the offending cleric for “outrageous comments” clearly misrepresenting “the Vatican’s official position.” But even a cursory awareness of Christian theology and its impact on Jewish survival through the ages; Vatican actions regarding Jewish return to independence in the State of Israel, as the above controversy again highlights, indicate otherwise. And while I have limited by necessity Catholic and Protestant theology to the five unimpeachable church examples above, these represent but the tip on the iceberg.
So how understand that our three Jewish defenders, supposedly knowledgeable in the field of Jewish-Christian relations, completely fail to appreciate the meaning, the intent of the anti-Jewish conclusions of the Vatican’s Synod of Bishops, of the Vatican itself?
Without going into detail here (several of my previous writings appearing in Jerusalem Post and elsewhere discuss the issue) I attribute Jewish blindness to (pardon my borrowing from Paul of Tarsus!) the phenomenon of Denial, the willful disregard or misunderstanding or misrepresentation of facts that conflict with what the observer wishes were true. We do not want to accept that Jews today and, yes, even we American Jews are still, two thousand years into our dispersion, outsiders, aliens in our Christian homelands. We prefer to misunderstand the significance of the current of delegitimization, of anti-Zionism resurgent in the West as antisemitism in an alternate guise. We prefer to accept that, merely six decades since the attempt to eradicate Jewish existence entire, that Israel has become for the same countries complicit in our Shoah a pariah state for the more genteel, a polite stand-in for traditional antisemitism.
Our rejection, expressed through petty and lethal antisemitism, only feeds our need for acceptance. We prefer to believe that two-thousand years of suffering at the hands of those who appear and usually are friend, neighbor and even intermarried family can, as happened in Germany, with little warning participate actively or passively in our persecution.
Can Christianity reform, can anti-Judaism be expurgated from Christian scripture reducing the possibility of a future Holocaust? The answer, according to Catholic theologian Rosemary Reuther, is No. In Faith and Fratricide, a brutally honest work written in the shadow of the Shoah, Ms. Reuther concludes, “Possibly anti-Judaism is too deeply embedded in the foundations of Christianity to be rooted out entirely without destroying the whole structure.” And it is highly unlikely that Christian leadership would offer religious suicide as an act of penitence.
Postscript: By providing a place for Judaism in Christianity as witness to that religion’s“truth,” Augustinian supersessionism provided for the survival of Judaism and Jewry in the Christian world. The price for our survival was, until Jewish Emancipation in the mid-19th century, a debased life. The Jews were condemned to prejudice, persecution, oppression, expulsion and murder, our eternal punishment as “Christ-killers.” Still, the Jews did not suffer extinction as did those condemned as heretic by the Church.
While we today live in a secular world and do not suffer the blatant indignities experienced by our ancestors at the hands of religious authorities, neither has “post-religion” modernity provided us security. On the contrary secularism has removed even that one avenue of escape allowed by Christian religion in all its variations to avoid persecution, conversion. Secular and democratically elected Germany’s government in the 1930’s provided a new criterion for “Jew”: a Christian is defined Jew if the grandchild of a Jew.
The title I selected for my JPost blog, Antisemitism and Jewish Survival, describes a historical constant inherent in the foundations of Christianity. Over the centuries Christian antisemitism has and continues, to take many forms from the slights of discrimination Jews are daily subject to, to the individual and organized mass murder represented by Crusades, Inquisition and the Shoah. I will use issues of antisemitism as they arise in the media, such as the recent Vatican Synod on Christians in the Middle East, to illustrate both this historic anti-Jewish constant, and the response of Jewish leaders to the provocation and the challenge.
Other of my writings on this and other topics may be read at my other blog site, Israel, the Diaspora and Jewish Denial.