An international prospective on Christian-Jewish relations was highlighted in the third annual Pope John Paul II lecture Sunday night, which featured Rev. Christian M. Rutishauser, S.J. of Switzerland, speaking on the “Jewishness of Jesus” and renewing Christian appreciation.
Rutishauser is in the Provincial of the Swiss Jesuits, as well as a lecturer on Jewish studies at the Faculty of the Philosophy of the Society of Jesus in Munich, Germany. He is also a member of the Commission for Jewish-Christian Relations of the Swiss and German Bishops Conference and the Vatican delegate at the International Liaison Committee for the Relations with the Jews. In addition to authoring articles and giving lectures around the world on his area of study, Rutishauser led a pilgrimage on foot from Switzerland to Jerusalem two years ago.
Rutishauser broke his lecture into four chapters, each focusing on separate facets of the Christian-Jewish relationship. The first chapter looked at the theological history of the two faiths, noting that many scholars have begun to treat Jesus as simply another historical figure from the ancient world in a modern secularization of faith.
“Many believers gradually came to realize that history alone could not provide adequate spiritual nourishment,” Rutishauser said. “Additionally, there was a danger that Jesus would become one early religious founding figure among many.
“The secular, historical perspective of Jesus has to be widened to include the history of the New Testament period as a whole, and of course, also that of the Old Testament. The text of the Bible must be read as a document written by believers in antiquity-there is no alternative in order to get the original meaning.”
He also discussed how two religious movements-the Messianic movement and the Rabbinic movement-that sought to reinterpret the history of God’s guidance arose out of the catastrophe that was the destruction of the Jewish temple in Jerusalem.
“They shared core elements of faith, but interpreted them in opposite ways,” Rutishauser said.
A third faith, he said, was formed as Islam began in the seventh century. Islam takes up the same topics and themes as Christianity, yet not the same sacred texts.
“While all three faiths are sister religions, it is only Judaism and Christianity that are twins,” Rutishauser said.
The second section of the lecture discussed the view of Christianity in light of Judaism and some of the fundamental questions at the heart of the relationship between the two religions. Among these questions were those regarding the old covenant between God and the Jewish people and the new covenant with the Church through Jesus, and whether they were two separate covenants or the renewal or extension of one covenant.
He also questioned what meaning Jesus could have to Jews if God made a covenant with them before Jesus’ time, and where Christians stand on Israel as the Promised Land.
“Too often in history, Church reform and revision took place at the expense of the Jews, and this often went unnoticed,” Rutishauser said. “It is crucially important that Christians remember their relationship with Judaism constantly.”
Rutishauser then moved on to a more detailed discussion of the Feast of the Circumcision of Christ and the day of Judaism as lenses through which one could learn about the enduring Jewish elements within the Catholic tradition.
“The Church’s relationship to Judaism must be entrenched into the liturgical calendar in the celebration of the faith and the prayer itself,” he said. “Only then do we truly reach out to the grassroots, and we don’t remain only in a circle of scholars or people with special interest.”
The Feast of the Circumcision was abolished in Roman Catholic liturgy in 1960, for reasons, he said, still relatively unclear. In recent years, though, there have been calls by some Catholic theologians to reintroduce the celebration of the feast. Rutishauser said that the liturgy for the feast would have to be carefully considered to reflect the revised understanding of Christian-Jewish relations since the Second Vatican Council in the 1960s. Vatican II focused on relations between the Catholic Church and the modern world, including other religions such as Judaism.
“After a long history of rejection and persecution, the relationship of the Christians to the Jews is indeed a hallmark of true peace,” Rutishauser said.
Within the last two decades, several European countries have begun to recognize a day of Judaism in order to raise public awareness of the redefinition of the Church’s relationship with the Jewish faith. While it has been proposed that the Vatican institute an official day of Judaism for the entire Church, each bishop conference has been left to introduce its own day based on the varying relationships between the Church and synagogue around the world.
“The day of Judaism was conceived as a day of dialogue,” Rutishauser said. “At the same time, it is a day of reaffirming the Church’s Jewish heritage.”