Fr Neuhaus reports in his latest ramble in First Things a change voted by the American bishops in the United States Catholic Catechism for Adults.
That book aims at being a more accessible, some would say dumbed-down, version of The Catechism of the Catholic Church, and it included this statement: “Thus the covenant that God made with the Jewish people through Moses remains eternally valid for them.”
Not surprisingly, some people took that to mean that, for Jews, the redemptive mission of Christ is not necessary. Catholic teaching, of course, is that, while God does not deny anyone the grace necessary to be saved, all who are saved are saved by virtue of the reconciliation effected through Christ.
In place of the former statement in the catechism, the bishops now follow The Catechism of the Catholic Church by quoting St. Paul in Romans 9: “To the Jewish people, whom God first chose to hear his word, ‘belong the sonship, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship and the promises; to them belong the patriarchs and of their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ. God who is over all be blessed forever. Amen.’”
As Archbishop Donald Wuerl of Washington, who helped edit the adult catechism, explains: “There was a concern that we were trying to say too much in too few words. When you get into an area of theological complexity, brevity doesn’t always serve you well.”
1) After trying to use the Catechism on the weekend to teach a bunch of Australian youth of immigrant background about Conscience, I actually think we DO need a “dumbed-down” version of the Catechism – by which I mean a plain english version, not a version stripped of authentic Catholic doctrine. I don’t think that the Compendium actually succeeds in this, as often the language it uses is just as difficult as that used by its parent. This is not a criticism of the Catechism – it is (as it should be) precise in its use of theological language. But we really do need a “teaching” Catechism that can be put in the hands of folk whose philosophical, theological and linguistic development is not as advanced as with some of the rest of us. (Sometimes I would benefit from a simpler statement of doctrine too!)
2) If only the original wording of the US catechism had been “Thus the covenant that God made with the Jewish people through ABRAHAM remains eternally valid for them”, there would have been no reason for a change. There is much confusion in this area. The whole reason Paul agonises so much for his people is that he is convinced of the eternal validity of the Abrahamic covenant. With regards to the Mosaic covenant, even a cursory reading of Galations (eg. Gal 3:23-26) would make it clear that he regards it to be of a temporary nature. Neuhaus is right when he adds
The simple sentence was misleading, and the point of St. Paul’s statement, and of the Church’s teaching, is that the [Mosaic] covenant is not finished but incomplete.
But the Mosaic Torah, now completed (ie. fulfilled) in Christ, no longer has validity either for Jews or for Gentiles, whereas the Abrahamic Covenant, likewise fulfilled in Christ, remains eternally valid, not only for the Gentiles, but for the Jews also.
No one seems interested in commenting on this observation, so I will post a comment myself.
I emailed point 2 of the above discussion (distiguishing between the abrahamic and mosaic covenants) to Fr Neuhaus himself and received this response eloquent in its brevity:
“A VERY IMPORTANT DISTINCTION.
The question that occurred to me – but I didn’t post it becuase you ma not be the person to ask – is whether Jews would accept this distinction between the Abrahamic and Mosaic covenants? Do they consider them two distinct covenants, or would they see the Mosaic covenant simply as the Abrahamic covenant more fully expressed, or more fully developed, or more fully articulated?
In other words, if we say that the Abrahamic covenant is eternally valid, while the Mosaic covenant has been fulfilled and is no longer valid, would Jews regard that as a meaningul statement?
That’s a good question, and I will have to try it out on a Rabbi. I expect you are right – they could not consider the one apart from the other, precisely because of the continuing validity of the Mosaic Covenant as the law for life for all heirs of the Abrahamic Covenant.
But St Paul clearly makes the theological distinction in the light of Christ, and the two are historically/narratively distinguished in the scriptures.
One should note, after all, that this is Christian problem, and not a Jewish one!