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The conspiracy theorists will never go away, it is just that now, they may just transfer their theories to the converts to Catholicism. One might also ask: will it lead to new anti-Semitism? No, to give a similar answer as before: none of this is new material. More importantly, most Catholics have already accepted the full gamut of changes of Vatican II, most are young enough to have never known another Church.
The actual start of this process was the 1947 meeting in Seelingberg, Germany by both Protestants and Catholics who thought that after the Holocaust, Christianity must relinquish its teaching of contempt toward Jews. It took a half century of hard work for most Christian denominations to change their attitude toward the Jews.
The reception of Connolly’s book shows that many Jews are still not aware of the message of Nostae Aetate. The document was part of a much larger series of documents of Vatican II, none of which dealt with Jews, that brought the Church into the 20th century. Nosta Aetate states that there is a bond that ties the people of the “New Covenant” (Christians) to “Abraham’s Stock” (Jews). It acknowledges that Israel received the revelation first, that Jews remain dear to God, and that Christianity grew out of Judaism. It rejects the deicide charges and decries all displays of anti-Semitism made at any time by anyone.
One must remember that prior to this document, Jews were seen by some documents as blinded, the Devil, and false; and that once the Jews have served their purpose then God has forgotten them. Jesus had transcended and had nothing in common with his birth religion, according to this now-outdated view.
It took more than three decades for Pope John Paul II to acknowledge Judaism as a living religion with an eternal covenant, to recognize the Holocaust, and to actively acknowledge the state of Israel. Pope Benedict XVI has moved the religions closer in Catholic thought by teaching that Jews and Catholics share one common Abrahamic covenant based on Genesis 15. Additionally, Pope Benedict strongly rejects the idea of two separate but equal covenants. Situating Jesus in his Jewish context is now taken as obvious.
Nostae Aetate was a revolution. But it did not in itself offer pluralism, recognize Judaism as a separate religion or, even as John Paul II did, grant continuous validity to Judaism. The document has both progressive and conservative interpretations.
Current Catholic questions and dividing lines of progressive and conservative interpretations have to do with how the Jewish covenant functions, how are Jews saved, and how the Trinity works through the Jewish people. These debates are not about Jewish self-understanding , rather Catholic doctrine.. For those interested in the official Vatican thinking about Judaism, I would recommend the document “Building on ‘Nostra Aetate’—50 Years of Christian-Jewish Dialogue,” by Cardinal Kurt Koch and issued May16, 2012; it contains Pope Benedict’s definitive legacy on Judaism. (http://www.ccjr.us/dialogika-resources/documents-and-statements/roman-catholic/kurt-cardinal-koch/1116-koch2012may16)
As for the subject of Connelly’s new book, the author considers the fragile, contingent, and almost accidental nature of this change. As someone who works in a Catholic university with a seminary on campus, this change is permanent. It is necessary, and part of the self-definition of the Catholic mission.
Seton Hall University will be commemorating in 2013-2014 the 50th anniversary of John M. Oesterreicher’s Judeo-Christian Institute. There will be speakers, a conference, and translations of Oesterreicher’s early work.
Alan Brill, is the Cooperman/Ross Endowed Professor in honor of Sister Rose Thering at Seton Hall University. He is the author of Judaism and Other Religions and the recent Judaism and World Religions.