A reader reflects on the “Reflections” document

Here’s what I think the theological error in Reflections is.

It isn’t the word “targetted”, or the term “irrevocable”. Most of us agree that the Jewish covenant is irrevocable, and that “targetting” proselytization to a specific group is a bad idea.

It’s the word “salvific”.

This word is only used once. It’s in a quote from Cardinal Kasper’s response to Dominus Iesus. Kasper wrote this in May 2001. The August 2002 “Reflections” document quoted him, but not in his complete context. Here is the full paragraph from Kasper’s essay:

|| The only thing I wish to say is that the document Dominus Iesus

|| does not state that everybody needs to become a Catholic in order

|| to be saved by God. On the contrary, it declares that God’s

|| grace, which is the grace of Jesus Christ according to our faith,

|| is available to all. Therefore, the Church believes that Judaism,

|| i.e. the faithful response of the Jewish people to God’s

|| irrevocable covenant, is salvific for them, because God is

|| faithful to his promises.

The error in logic lies in the word “therefore”. Kasper argues that the salvific nature of the Old Covenant _follows_ from the fact that God’s grace is available to all! But Judaism isn’t even mentioned in the first two sentences. If his argument were valid, it would follow that agnosticism is also salvific, because agnostics can certainly be saved by Christ.

Neither does “salvific” follow from “irrevocable”. Paul says that God does not repent of his promises. But where in the Hebrew Scriptures does God promise eternal life to anyone? I can’t think of anywhere. (It’s not even until later books like Maccabees and Wisdom where eternal life is clearly discussed, and these books contain no new covenants.) As long as “salvific” and “salvation” refer to eternal life, the Hebrew Scriptures don’t even claim their own covenant is salvific.

[Of course, "salvific" might mean something else in another context, but in Kasper's context it seems clear that he means the salvation that we receive from Christ.]

My two cents….

FWIW, Kasper notes (as does the Reflections doc) that saving grace is, in the Catholic tradition “the grace of Jesus Christ”. In other words, whoever awakes on that blessed morn to find themselves in heaven–be he Catholic, Protestant, Jew or Eskimo, he will find (perhaps to his great surprise) that he’s there because of his obedience and union with the Spirit of Jesus Christ. This is understandably offensive to some Jews, but the Catholic reply can only be, “Sorry. It’s reality, since Jesus is God and the essence of heaven is, after all, the life of God, not harps and golden streets.” Those in heaven who thought they were merely being good Jews (or even good pagans) and who find themselves saved will discover they were being obedient to the Spirit of Christ, perhaps without realizing it. Happily, those who do find themselves in heaven will no longer be offended and our earthly divisions will henceforth look funny, I think.

This is not to say “Everybody will be saved.” It is merely to say that those who are will be saved by Jesus Christ, even if they don’t know the name of the one saving them. For as the Catholic tradition reveals, there is no other savior, so all the saved, whether Jew or Gentile, will be saved by him alone.

The Reflections document never gets around to really denying this. However, it is also amazingly mealy-mouthed in affirming it too, which confuses media types, creates misleading headlines, and makes the document a stupid, confusing, foolish thing to release into the public square. Insofar as the New Covenant is hidden in the old, the old is “salvific” (Abraham, after all, found salvation, so did many other Old Testament worthies). So Jews, ignorant of the New Covenant, but still attempting to obey God with the Faith of Abraham, can be led by the spirit of Christ and experience a kind of baptism of desire, ISTM. But this is hardly a reason to deny them the opportunity to hear about the Christ toward whom their tradition points. Christians have an absolute obligation to present Christ to the world, including Jews. They do not have an obligation to be obnoxious jerks. Nor is every act of evangelism an act of obnoxious jerkery. Jews, while deserving of respect, are not big babies and are capable of being grown ups who can deal with people who have Christian convictions and who speak from those convictions. As was noted on this blog some time ago, Mike Epstein (aka Prolife Guy) summed up in fifteen words what the Subcommittee of Verbose and Elliptical Religious Functionaries took zillions of words to never quite get around to saying concerning evangelistic conversation with Jews:

“So my general advice is to do your thing until asked to tone it down.”

My only advice would be, “Don’t have to be asked to tone it down. But don’t clam up entirely either. There is a command to bear witness to Christ. And let’s face it: Your average Catholic is much more likely to say nothing whatever about his faith to anybody for any money than he is to be an obnoxious Salesman for Christ. The Reflections document is urging Catholics to crowd to the side of the boat that is already nearly gunwale under.”