Around 2005 I’ve previously written about this kind of dual-covenant heresy in an ecclesiastical thriller novel called Jackass for the Hour: The Murderous Intrigue of Interreligious Dialogue, which runs for some 750 pages. I’m providing here just an excerpt from Chapter 22 – in media res – where a young priest and a seasoned Rabbi are having a fast moving discussion of exactly this point while in an airplane. Might I suggest to the Archbishop that he spend a few minutes being entertained by the following paragraphs. He might know that my fellow biblical scholars were pushing me to teach at his alma mater, saying that he would make this happen. So, here’s that excerpt from chapter 22 of Jackass for the Hour. By the way, Father Alexámenos, the protagonist of the novel, is a Jackass for the Hour. Let’s get into it:
Before Father Alexámenos answered, the Rabbi continued with an intensity his priest friend enjoyed so much it all almost set him to laughing, wishing all his interlocutors had the intelligence and, he suspected, the streak of mischievousness of the Rabbi. “The Old Covenant must effectively be replaced by the New Covenant inasmuch as the Old is to be fulfilled and transformed in the New. The Old Covenant cannot be salvific on its own, even before any Messiah comes, for the Old had to look forward to the New, which fills it with Life back in the day. Time is not a barrier to its Creator. If the view is that the New has come, the Old must necessarily become sterile, even if it is not purposely cut off from the New, and no matter how much God respects the sincerity of Jews who do not even know what Christianity is. In that case, God gives grace to the Jews simply as His gratuitous gift, but not because God makes valid what cannot be made valid in the Old Covenant except in its present day fulfilment in the New.” Since Father Alexámenos did not interject, the Rabbi continued: “Your Cardinal Froben, nevertheless, gives us the lowest common denominator of no one having any covenant, telling us, absurdly, that both the Old and the New Covenant can be salvific at the same time. If the Old Covenant doesn’t look forward to the New, it is not actually the Old Covenant we are talking about, and if the New Covenant doesn’t fulfil the Old, it is not actually the New Covenant we are talking about. Two independent, salvific covenants are two other religions, neither Jewish nor Catholic. Froben and his kind must stop insulting our intelligence. Tell me you understand!”
“Rabbi, I know exactly what you are…”
“Do you?” pressed the Rabbi.
“I regret,” said Father Alexámenos, “that Cardinal Froben has scandalously claimed that our aim in a dialogue is not to come into any kind of communion or unity, but simply to improve constantly those relationships and to work together. What he says is not what the Church nor I believe. I’m for unity in Charity and Truth. Saint Paul goes out of his way to say that…”
“I wonder about your regret,” interrupted the Rabbi, “Your Saint Paul makes it clear that he loves the Jews,” said the Rabbi, “but Froben and those like him do not seem to know who Paul of Tarsus is. They take every opportunity to send us to Auschwitz again. Take that document on the Shoah…”
“In reading that document, I just couldn’t believe that…” Father Alexámenos began to say.
“You Catholics,” interrupted the Rabbi, “speak of your Tradition as Faith provided by the Holy Spirit to each person so univocally throughout time that it seems as if this Tradition is created with each person handing on, so to speak, a book to another person. Yet, you Catholics always spoke of any human involvement as merely ‘quasi per manus’, ‘almost by hand,’ so that Tradition is God’s work. It is part of Revelation, God-given Faith, going hand in hand with Sacred Scripture, inspired by God, authored by God, using human authors to whom He gave the Faith, this Tradition. It seems as if the Faith is handed on as a thing, by hand, since it is always the same.”
“That is true,” said Father Alexámenos. “In fact…”
The Rabbi, instead, wanted to make his point, and said, “We Jews believe the same thing about Tradition and Faith, but we use different words. Tradition for us is our own assent to the Faith as found with our historical ‘handing on’ of commentary by which we ‘soil our hands’, as with the Mishna, Tosepta and Talmud. This Tradition is not rendered ‘quasi per manus’, ‘almost by hand’, but actually by hand without the direct intervention of divinely given Faith. That is why the Mishna, Tosepta and Talmud are not even read in our liturgy. But much more than this, we believe that the Torah, the Prophets and Writings were not only written with assent to the Faith, like this other commentary, but were also revealed and written under inspiration which we instead speak of as being eternal words. I can understand that you Catholics can be confused by the different use of terminology. However, I don’t like it when you so easily take a polemical statement and make it representative of what Jews believe. For instance, just because of a few of our comments, you might think that the Prophets and Writings have nothing within them that is as essential to Judaism as the Torah, the first five books of the Bible. Yet, the establishment of the Davidic line is essential to whom God wants us to be, namely, a holy People being led by one person who is a priest, a prophet and a king. The New Covenant prophesied by Jeremiah 31:31-34 is also essential to whom God wanted us to be. Check out 1 Samuel 2:27-3. Do I need to mention the Suffering Servant described by Isaiah, and how he is the Son of David? To think otherwise would make us Samaritans who reject the Prophets and Writings. Since when did Samaritans and Jews get along other than in that parable of Jesus?”
“I’m sure that all these misunderstandings can be sorted out,” said Father Alexámenos.
“Are you so sure?” asked the Rabbi. “Why, then, do some Catholics so easily believe that the Jewish Scriptures were complete only after what you call the ætas apostolica, the apostolic age, within which even your New Testament had to be finished for it to be inspired and canonical?”
“But the Hebrew Scriptures were complete before Christ’s birth…” began Father Alexámenos.
But the Rabbi interrupted him, saying, “I’ll tell you why. Because you want to condemn us to Auschwitz all over again. If you say the Jewish Scriptures were not written in view of the coming Messiah, the fulness of Revelation, whom you believe to be Jesus, then your insincerity is evident. You are actually saying that you do not believe that Jesus is the Messiah, and that the Jewish Scriptures point to a different Messiah. In fact, you say that no Jew ever read in the Jewish Scriptures what you read in the Jewish Scriptures, thus making even your Jesus into the greatest liar and fraud of all time, or at least those who wrote the New Testament, which, for you, makes the Holy Spirit into the greatest liar and fraud. You run away from the problem by saying that Catholics and Jews have two Faiths which are so ‘irreducible’ that we Jews not only would never become Christian – believing in Jewish Jesus as the Jewish Messiah – but could never do so. What an insult! What hatred of the Jews! If we are so cut off, in your view, from knowing the fulfilment of the Old Covenant in the New Covenant promised by Jeremiah, cut off from knowing the fulness of Revelation, of the Messiah’s Charity, that He is the Davidic Priest, Prophet and King, why not just condemn us to hell forever, as if we want to kill the Messiah. Auschwitz, here we come!”
“But Rabbi, those who say we have two different Faiths are heretics. In my dream…”
“Don’t deny that this is the only problem, as if answering it – even with your ‘dream’ – will be the end of it all,” said the Rabbi. “How about when your Preacher said that you Catholics cannot invite us to believe in Christ? He said that you have lost the right to do so because of some mistakes of some people who used coercion. He said that first the wounds must be healed through dialogue and reconciliation. But you have no basis for dialogue and reconciliation if you deny us Charity and Faith, the very things you say you hold dearest. You keep us away, as if you fear that we, if we did believe in Jesus as the Messiah, would brook no dissent within the Church, which I do not doubt for a second… We would be so passionate. That’s what you’re all afraid of!”
“I cannot wait for the hour when…” Father Alexámenos began to answer.
“We can reject you if we want. Don’t worry about that!” insisted the Rabbi, “but hold out to us Him whom you know to be Charity Incarnate. Do not refuse to love us! Otherwise, the sins of the past become reality again. What hypocrisy it is to keep screaming about the Shoah, Never again! Plus jamais! Nie wieder! when that is just what you are about to do again. Sag niemals nie! Never say never! It can happen again. All the pieces are falling right into place. For hypocrites, wir leben nur als Last, but life is only a burden for those who hate life.”
“The cry ‘Never again!’ is so often just self-congratulations, proclaiming that humanity does not glut itself as much as it can on violence, so that religion – added on top of this feigned general human niceness – merely adds more, optional niceness,” said Father Alexámenos. Religious people with this attitude are so dangerous. “Anyway, that preacher is just a simple priest, who…”
“If it’s a Cardinal you want,” interrupted the Rabbi, “how about the one who said that we are all waiting for the Messiah? At least he was severely criticised for saying what he did.”
“Yes, I distinctly remember the occasion. Some in the Ghetto felt sorry for him, even for contradictory reasons. He said that dialogue would continue until the Lord comes, meaning that he didn’t expect the Jews to become Catholic until then. But then it is too late. Saint Paul says that only a part of Israel will be hardened, and only until the fulness of the nations enter. When they do enter, that other part of Israel will also become Catholic, and, then, and only then, the Lord will come. Telling people that they are not supposed to become Catholic until it is too late is evil.”
“Evil?” asked the Rabbi, “not ignorant, misled, sycophantic perhaps?”
“Perhaps he didn’t mean it, but what he said is evil. It doesn’t advance justice, peace or unity.”
“Now you’re getting it,” said the Rabbi. “To me, they are all following those anti-Semites whom your Secretary of the Pontifical Biblical Commission thankfully reprimanded just two and half years after the Shoah for their having asserted that the first chapters of Genesis were related ‘en un langage simple et figuré, adapté aux intelligences d’une humanité moins développée…’ The problem is that no one but no one agreed with him on this important Act of the Apostolic See.”
“Pius XII thought he was a bit of a Zeitgeist,” Father Alexámenos responded.
“Don’t get me started!” exclaimed the Rabbi.
“Your not one of those ridiculous ‘Hitler’s Pope’ rabbis are you?” asked Father Alexámenos, fully expecting a negative answer.
“What I complain about regarding Pius XII,” the Rabbi responded just as incisively, “is that you are all afraid to canonize him. You are fools!”
“Look,” countered Father Alexámenos. “If Genesis were written ‘in a simple and figurative language, adapted to the understandings of a less developed humanity’” – and then using air quotes – “‘adapted to the intelligences of a less developed humanity’,” it would mean that the account of Genesis either had to have been written by a non-Semite, who pitied the stupidity of the Semites, or that another descendant of Abraham not having written the account, simply caught it as it dropped out of the sky. But all of that goes against what we both believe about the inspiration of the sacred writer. It’s completely ridiculous. We’re not Muslims! And I agree, it says a lot that the Secretary of the Commission actually had to smack down a dangerous racist attitude even while the last of the ashes of the ovens of Auschwitz were filtering down from the darkened skies. Those he was smacking down were clearly not saying that Abraham’s descendants were simply lacking in culture at a particular period of their history, but that they were stupid because their very humanity had not developed, as if they were Neanderthals, for, as it is, one can be intelligent, and understand, even if one’s culture is not developed.”
“You amaze me,” said the Rabbi. “I’ve never in all my days met someone quite like you, not even…”
But before the Rabbi could mention his friend in the See of Peter, Father Alexámenos continued. He was on his soapbox. “That document has been cited ad nauseam by biblical scholars and theologians, but they give it the opposite meaning. I’ve been trying to get to the identities of those to whom the Biblical Commission’s Secretary was responding. I can guess, but…”
“Your little investigations won’t solve anything, Father,” said the Rabbi dismissively, wanting this priest to be prudent in these matters, but wondering how it was he could be thinking along the same lines as himself.
“And I should warn you of something as well, Rabbi,” said Father Alexámenos, trying to inject some humour into the conversation at the expense of Libreria editrice Vaticana: “Be careful not to be sued for citing Vatican documents verbatim. It could cost you as much as…”
“Thirty pieces of silver?” asked the Rabbi. “I would only betray my own interests in not citing those documents. And, for goodness’ sake! It’s only a conversation.” After a moment, he laughed, and said, “Oh, I see… It would be rather difficult for them to defend their copyright so as to silence a voice against anti-Semitism. Hah!” Both he and Father Alexámenos laughed the laugh of the sadness one has when faced with ignorance before which it seems one can do nothing.
“As it is,” said Father Alexámenos, “I never hesitate to offer an examination of conscience to those who have governance in the Church by way of the characters in the stories I write.”
“Savonarola redivivus, only better,” said the Rabbi, chuckling. “I’d like to read your works.”
“I would be most honoured,” said Father Alexámenos, “but I’ve lost everything in Haïti. My luggage with everything precious to me was stolen and destroyed. Almost everything…” he added, thinking of the picture of his family at his first Holy Communion…
© International 2005-2022 – George David Byers