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Jewish-Christian Communion and its Ecclesiological Implications

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This article addresses the ecclesiological significance of Jewish-Christian relations. Given the development of a non-supersessionist theology of God’s relation to the Jewish people, it asks whether the language of communion might complement the more common language of covenant in developing a Christian theology of the current relations between Jews and Christian. Drawing upon the theology of Jean-Marie Roger Tillard, communion in shared faith, shared hope, and shared mission are raised as possible foundations for this imperfect or incomplete communion. Such a move has implications for both Jewish-Christian relations and dialogue, as well as for method in ecclesiology.

1. fn1*) These ideas were first presented at the Christian Systematic Theology Section of the American Academy of Religion, and at a conference on ‘Understanding Religious Pluralism’ at Georgetown University, and were developed with the assistance of a Marymount University Summer Writing Fellowship. I am grateful to the many friends and colleagues who contributed to my final product.
2. fn21) Vatican Council II, Declaration on the Relation of the Church to Non-Christian Religions (Nostra Aetate), §4.
3. fn32) Michel Remaud, Chrétiens et Juifs entre le passé et l’avenir (Brussels: Éditions Lessius, 2000), p. 90, note 2. For a more detailed history of the document that became Nostra Aetate, see Giuseppe Alberigo and Joseph A. Komonchak, eds., The History of Vatican II (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 1995-2006), pp. 1:270-71; 3:275-76, 283-84, 430-32; 3:430-32; 4:135-93; 5:211-21; and the shorter summary of Alberto Melloni, ‘Nostra Aetate and the Discovery of the Sacrament of Otherness,’ in Philip A. Cunningham, Norbert J. Hofmann, S.D.B., and Joseph Sievers (eds), The Catholic Church and the Jewish People: Recent Reflections from Rome (New York: Fordham University Press, 2007), pp. 130-151.
4. fn43) Cited in John T. Pawlikowski, ‘Reflections on Covenant and Mission,’ in Marianne Moyaert and Didier Pollefeyt (eds), Never Revoked: Nostra Aetate as Ongoing Challenge for Jewish-Christian Dialogue (Leuven: Peeters, 2010), p. 61.
5. fn54) Vatican Council II, Dogmatic Constitution on the Church (Lumen Gentium), §16. It was tentative in part due to the context of the time and views of some bishops; one bishop’s comment that ‘Perhaps only Jewish Freemasonry will find any joy in it [the Declaration De Judaeis], but for political reasons or material interests (the dollar sign)’ is representative of what Melloni names ‘a gallery of opinions that is shocking because of the resonance they have with a tradition of Christian anti-Semitism of different forms and degrees of danger that go back for thousands of years.’ Melloni, ‘Nostra Aetate’, pp. 140-41. It was also tentative in part due to the ‘chaos’, in Melloni’s words, of the drafting process in the final session of the Council. Ibid., p. 146.
6. fn65) Walter Kasper, ‘The Relationship of the Old and the New Covenant as One of the Central Issues in Jewish-Christian Dialogue’, Centre for the Study of Jewish-Christian Relations, Cambridge, December 2004, available at the website of the Center for Christian-Jewish Learning at Boston College,
7. fn76) Pawlikowski, ‘Reflections on Covenant and Mission,’ p. 85.
8. fn87) Christian Rutishauser, ‘“The Old Unrevoked Covenant” and “Salvation for All Nations in Christ”,’ in Philip A. Cunningham et al. (eds), Christ Jesus and the Jewish People Today: New Explorations of Theological Interrelationships (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2011), pp. 229-250.
9. fn98) Mary C. Boys, ‘The Covenant in Contemporary Ecclesial Documents,’ in Eugene B. Korn and John T. Pawlikowski (eds), Two Faiths, One Covenant (New York: Rowman and Littlefield, 2005), p. 82.
10. fn109) For a review of documents from Protestant churches and ecumenical and interreligious bodies, see Boys, ‘The Covenant in Contemporary Ecclesial Documents,’ pp. 95-103.
11. fn1110) As defined and practiced by, for example, Francis X. Clooney. See his recent introduction Comparative Theology: Deep Learning Across Religious Boundaries (Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2010).
12. fn1211) From John Paul II, ‘Address to the Jewish Community in Main, West Germany,’ November 17, 1980, and ‘Address to Jewish Leaders in Miami,’ September 11, 1987. Cited in ‘Reflections on Covenant and Mission,’ a document of the Consultation of the National Council of Synagogues (USA) and the Bishops’ Committee for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, August 12, 2002.
13. fn1312) For other official statements by churches and scholars, one might begin with Vatican Council II, Nostra Aetate, §4, up to the Leuenberg Church Fellowship’s 2001 statement “Church and Israel,” II.1.2, and the document ‘A Sacred Obligation: Rethinking Christian Faith in Relation to Judaism and the Jewish People’ proposed by the Christian Scholars Group on Christian-Jewish Relations in 2002.
14. fn1413) See, for instance, Irving Greenberg, ‘Judaism and Christianity: Covenants of Redemption,’ in Tikva Frymer-Kensky et al. (eds), Christianity in Jewish Terms (Boulder, Co.: Westview Press, 2000), pp. 141-158.
15. fn1514) In Christianity in Jewish Terms, pp. xvii-xviii.
16. fn1615) John T. Pawlikowski, ‘Can We Speak of a Theological Bond between Christians and Jews?’ in Franklin T. Harkins, ed., Transforming Relations: Essays on Jews and Christians throughout History (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 2010), pp. 395-404.
17. fn1716) See Hans Hermann Henrix, Judentum und Christentum: Gemeinschaft wider Willen (Regensburg: Verlag Friedrich Pustet, 2008).
18. fn1817) Joseph Ratzinger, Many Religions – One Covenant, Graham Harrison, trans. (San Francisco: Ignatius, 1999), p. 57. Obviously the capitalization differs from the German original (Die Vielfalt der Religionen und der Eine Bund [Hagen: Verlag Urfeld, 1998], p. 58), but the translator captures the sense of Covenant/covenants for which Ratzinger argues.
19. fn1918) Erich Zenger, ‘The Foundations of a Christian Theology of Judaism,’ in The Catholic Church and the Jewish People, pp. 102, 106.
20. fn2019) Ratzinger, Many Religions, p. 49.
21. fn2120) John Barton, ‘Covenant in the Bible and Today’, in Mark Chapman (ed.), The Anglican Covenant (London: Mowbray, 2008), pp. 193, 202.
22. fn2221) See Philip A. Potter, ‘Covenant,’ in Dictionary of the Ecumenical Movement, 2nd Edition (Geneva: WCC Publications, 2002), pp. 264-269.
23. fn2322) The Nature and Mission of the Church: A Stage on the Way to a Common Statement, Faith and Order Paper 198 (Geneva: World Council of Churches, 2005).
24. fn2423) Many of the ideas in this section are further explored in Brian P. Flanagan, Communion, Diversity, and Salvation: The Contribution of Jean-Marie Tillard to Systematic Ecclesiology (London & New York: T&T Clark, 2011).
25. fn2524) For history and evaluation of contemporary communion ecclesiology, see Richard Lennan, ‘Communion Ecclesiology: Foundations, Critiques, and Affirmations,’ Pacifica 20 (2007), pp. 24-39; Susan Wood, ‘The Church as Communion,’ in Peter Phan (ed.), The Gift of the Church: A Textbook on Ecclesiology (Collegeville: Michael Glazier, 2000), pp. 159-76; and Dennis Doyle, Communion Ecclesiology (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 2000).
26. fn2625) See Flanagan, Communion, Diversity, and Salvation, pp. 26-44.
27. fn2726) The concept of a ‘scalar category’ in ecclesiology comes from Michael Root, ‘Bishops, Ministry, and the Unity of the Church in Ecumenical Dialogue: Deadlock, Breakthrough, or Both?’, CTSA Proceedings 62 (2007), pp. 32-34.
28. fn2827) See Rose Beal, ‘In pursuit of a “total ecclesiology”: Yves Congar’s “De Ecclesia”, 1931–1954’ (PhD Diss.: The Catholic University of America, 2009), pp. 233-234.
29. fn2928) Extraordinary Synod of 1985. ‘A Message to the People of God and the Final Report.’Origins 15 (19 December 1985), pp. 441, 443–50.
30. fn3029) Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. ‘Some Aspects of the Church Understood as Communion (Communionis notio),’ Origins 22 (25 June 1992), pp. 108–12.
31. fn3130) Gerard Mannion, Ecclesiology and Postmodernity (Collegeville, Minn.: Liturgical Press, 2007), pp. 55-71. See also the critique of Vatican use of communion in José Comblin, The People of God (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 2004), pp. 56-60.
32. fn3231) Prominently, that of Nicholas M. Healy. See ‘Ecclesiology and Communion’, Perspectives in Religious Studies 31 (2004), pp. 273-90; and Church, World and the Christian Life: Practical-Prophetic Ecclesiology, Cambridge Studies in Christian Doctrine 7 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press), 2000, esp. pp. 44-46. See also Thomas P. Looney, ‘Koinonia Ecclesiology: How Solid a Foundation?’ One in Christ 36 (2000), pp.145-66; and Clare Watkins, ‘Objecting to Koinonia: The Question of Christian Discipleship Today – And Why Communion Is Not The Answer’, Louvain Studies 28 (2003), pp. 326-43.
33. fn3332) Jean-Marie Tillard, Église d’Églises: L’ecclésiologie de communion (Paris: Cerf, 1987); Chair de l’Église, chair du Christ: Aux sources de l’ecclésiologie de communion (Paris: Cerf, 1992); and L’Église locale: Ecclésiologie de communion et catholicité (Paris: Cerf, 1996).
34. fn3433) As, for instance, that of John Zizioulas, Being as Communion: Studies in Personhood and the Church (Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir’s Press, 1985); and Communion and Otherness (London & New York: T&T Clark, 2006); and that of Miroslav Volf, After Our Likeness: The Church as the Image of the Trinity (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1998).
35. fn3534) As that of Joseph Ratzinger, summarized most thoroughly in Pilgrim Fellowship of Faith: The Church as Communion. Translated by Henry Taylor (San Francisco: Ignatius, 2005). Ratzinger’s thought exemplifies what Gerard Mannion, following the analysis of Philip Murnion, refers to as the ‘official communion ecclesiology’. See Mannion, Ecclesiology and Postmodernity (Collegeville, Minn.: Liturgical Press, 2007), pp. 55-71.
36. fn3635) For a more extensive treatment, see Flanagan, Communion, Diversity, and Salvation, pp. 81-111.
37. fn3736) Église d’Églises, p. 33. See also Église d’Églises, pp. 33-36; L’Église locale, pp. 135-41. Translations are my own, unless otherwise noted.
38. fn3837) Église d’Églises, p. 68. See also L’Église locale, pp. 83-88.
39. fn3938) Cf. Église d’Églises, pp. 186-215; L’Église locale, pp. 89-104.
40. fn4039) ‘L’Universel et le Local,’ Irénikon 61 (1988), pp. 28-29.
41. fn4140) Église d’Églises, pp. 69-70.
42. fn4241) Chair de l’Église, p. 23.
43. fn4342) See Boys, ‘The Covenant in Contemporary Ecclesial Documents,’ pp. 82-95; as well as the documents themselves to which Boys and others have drawn attention: Vatican Council II, Nostra Aetate (1965); Vatican Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews, ‘Notes on the Correct Way to Present the Jews and Judaism in Preaching and Catechesis in the Roman Catholic Church’ (1985); idem, ‘We Remember: A Reflection on the Shoah’ (1998); Pontifical Biblical Commission, ‘The Jewish People and Their Sacred Scriptures in the Christian Bible’ (2001); National Conference of Catholic Bishops [United States], ‘God’s Mercy Endures Forever: Guidelines on the Presentation of Jews and Judaism in Catholic Preaching’ (1988); idem, ‘Catholic Teaching on the Shoah: Implementing the Holy See’s We Remember’ (2001). These documents are available on the websites of their authoring bodies as well as at the Boston College Center for Christian-Jewish Learning,
44. fn4443) The ideas of ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ supersessionism come from David Novak, and are helpful categories whether or not one agrees with his conclusion that some form of supersessionism is necessary to Christian identity. See David Novak, ‘The Covenant in Rabbinic Thought’ in Korn and Pawlikowski, Two Faiths, One Covenant, pp. 65-69.
45. fn4544) See, for instance, the contrasting responses to the statement ‘Reflections on Covenant and Mission’ (Consultation of the National Council of Synagogues and the Bishops Committee for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, August 12, 2002): Avery Dulles, ‘Covenant and Mission’, America 187:12 (Oct 21 2002), pp. 8-11; and Mary Boys, Philip Cunningham and John Pawlikowski, ‘Theology’s “Sacred Obligation”: A Reply to Cardinal Avery Dulles on Evangelization,’ America 187:12 (Oct 21 2002), pp. 12-16; and more recent discussion regarding Vatican recognitio of changes in the U.S. Catholic Catechism and the U.S. bishops’ statement A Note on Ambiguities Contained in Covenant Mission. See John Borelli, ‘Troubled Waters,’ America 202:5 (Feb 22 2010), pp. 20-23.
46. fn4645) Richard John Neuhaus, ‘Salvation Is from the Jews,’ in Jews and Christians: People of God, p. 66.
47. fn4746) The language of ‘imperfect communion’ is first used in Unitatis Redintegratio, the Second Vatican Council’s Decree on Ecumenism, §3. For a broader overview of the language of ‘full communion,’ see Joseph D. Small, ‘What is Communion and When is it Full?” Ecclesiology 2:1 (2005), pp. 71-87.
48. fn4847) Eugene J. Fisher, ‘What Does Dominus Iesus Say About Judaism? Actually, Nothing’, Shofar 22:2 (2004), p. 34.
49. fn4948) Catechism of the Catholic Church, §839.
50. fn5049) From an address delivered at the 17th meeting of the International Catholic-Jewish Liaison Committee, New York, May 1, 2001. Quoted in Fisher, ‘What Does Dominus Iesus Say’, p. 36.
51. fn5150) Christian Rutishauser, ‘ “The Old Unrevoked Covenant” and “Salvation for All Nations in Christ”’, p. 230.
52. fn5251) Peter Hünermann, ‘Jewish-Christian Relations: A Conciliar Discovery and Its Methodological Consequences for Dogmatic Theology, The Catholic Church and the Jewish People, p. 126.
53. fn5352) Walter Kasper, ‘The Relationship of the Old and the New Covenant as One of the Central Issues in Jewish-Christian Dialogue’.
54. fn5453) John T. Pawlikowski, ‘Reflections on Covenant and Mission Forty Years After Nostra Aetate', Crosscurrents (Winter 2007), p. 87.
55. fn5554) Kasper, ‘The Relationship of the Old and the New Covenant’.
56. fn5655) Kasper, ‘The Relationship of the Old and the New Covenant’.
57. fn5756) R. Kendall Soulen, The God of Israel and Christian Theology (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1996), p. 138.
58. fn5857) Soulen, The God of Israel and Christian Theology, p. 170.
59. fn5958) F. Lovsky, La déchirure de l’absence, essai sur les rapports de l’Église du Christ et du peuple d’Israël (Paris: Calmann-Lévy, 1971), p. 44.
60. fn6059) Irving Greenberg, For the Sake of Heaven and Earth (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 2004), p. 44.
61. fn6160) John T. Pawlikowski, ‘Jews and Christians: Their Covenantal Relationship in the American Context’, in Two Faiths, One Covenant?, pp. 155-65.
62. fn6261) For a challenging collection of personal experiences in this area, see Jane Kaplan, Interfaith Families: Personal Stories of Jewish-Christian Intermarriage (Westport, Ct.: Seabury Press, 2004). See also numerous articles in a special issue of Ecumenism 131 (1998).
63. fn6362) See the essays in the classic text by Arthur A. Cohen, The Myth of the Judeo-Christian Tradition (New York: Harper & Row, 1969).
64. fn6463) For an extensive treatment of Jewish-Christian relations in comparison to ecumenism, see Hans Hermann Henrix, ‘Zum Ort des Jüdischen in der ökumenischen Theologie’, in Gehard Langer and Gregor Maria Hoff (eds), Der Ort des Jüdischen in der katholischen Theologie (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2009), pp. 264-297. Henrix very briefly addresses the question of whether koinonia might be used to describe the Christian-Jewish relation, but asserts that Mitgemeinschaft or synkoinonia does a better job of preserving Christian respect for Jewish otherness than Gemeinschaft or koinonia (p. 296). I would argue that the English formulation here of ‘partial’, ‘imperfect’, or ‘incomplete’ communion has a similar effect of maintaining a respectful difference-in-nearness, what Henrix calls a ‘closeness borne with respect, kindness, even love’ (p. 297).
65. fn6564) Michel Remaud, Chrétiens et juifs entre le passé et l’avenir, p. 148.
66. fn6665) Remaud, Chrétiens et juifs entre le passé et l’avenir, p. 149.

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