Saturday, August 13, 2011

Perspectives on the Jews and salvation, from Luke and Paul

St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross,
daughter of the chosen people

20th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Romans 11:13-15,29-32
For the gifts and the call of God are irrevocable.
Earlier this week (on Tuesday), the Church celebrated the feast of St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross (Edith Stein). She was, of course, a Jew and she always held her Jewish heritage in high esteem. Once, she said to her confessor, “You don’t know what it means to me to be a daughter of the chosen people – to belong to Christ, not only spiritually, but according to the flesh.”
The strong emphasis of this great saint on her blood relation to Jesus through her Jewish lineage can make some uneasy. Such persons wonder: Can we really say that the Jews are still the “chosen people”? Is it not necessary for the Jews to believe in Christ in order for them to be saved? Since none are saved by being born of blood, nor by the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man (John 1:13), is there any importance to being a Jew?
Rather than discussing these questions directly, it will be helpful to consider a tension which exists within the Scriptures themselves. In the Gospel according to St. Luke and in St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans, we are presented with two different accents of the relation between the Jews and salvation – note, I do not say there are two different theologies but only two accents. St. Luke’s Gospel, recording the words of Christ, seems to imply that the Jews who have rejected Christ are (as a people, though not necessarily as individuals) shut out from salvation and left behind. St. Paul, on the other hand, seems to state that salvation will only come to the world when the Jews (again, as a people) are converted to the true Faith.
This difference is all the more interesting when we consider that St. Luke was a disciple and friend of the Apostle to the Gentiles.

The accent of St. Luke
And a certain man said to him: Lord, are they few that are saved? But he said to them: Strive to enter by the narrow gate; for many, I say to you, shall seek to enter, and shall not be able. But when the master of the house shall be gone in, and shall shut the door, you shall begin to stand without, and knock at the door, saying: Lord, open to us. And he answering, shall say to you: I know you not, whence you are. Then you shall begin to say: We have eaten and drunk in thy presence, and thou hast taught in our streets. And he shall say to you: I know you not, whence you are: depart from me, all ye workers of iniquity. There shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth, when you shall see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob, and all the prophets, in the kingdom of God, and you yourselves thrust out. And there shall come from the east and the west, and the north and the south; and shall sit down in the kingdom of God. And behold, they are last that shall be first; and they are first that shall be last. (Luke 13:23-30)
This parable was spoken by Jesus to the Jews, those with whom he ate and drank and in whose streets he taught. Those from among the Jews who do not convert and who do not enter by the narrow gate of faith, will be shut out. How great will their torment be, when they see their own ancestors according to the flesh (i.e. Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and all the prophets) joined with Christ in his kingdom, and they themselves thrust out and condemned to hell – left behind.
Moreover, many from the east and west, the north and south – that is many of the Gentiles – will be converted and will enter into the kingdom of God. But there is no mention at all of a “second conversion” of the Jews as a people. Rather, they are (again, as a people though not as individuals) utterly shut out and left behind – the Gentiles (as a multitude of peoples) do not seem to depend upon the Jews (as a "chosen" people) at all.

Of course, when I say that this parable shows the accent of St. Luke, I do not mean to imply that the passage is somehow an "invention" of the Evangelist - not at all! Obviously, our Savior did tell this very parable; and yet we must admit that each Evangelist recorded the historical events in such a way as to preserve his own particular focus in writing. Thus, St. Luke strongly emphasizes the part of the parable where the Jews are left out and the Gentiles are brought in; and it is noteworthy that none of the other Gospels contain this particular parable [though individual phrases from this passage are used in both Matthew and Mark].
The accent of St. Paul
I say then, have they so stumbled, that they should fall? God forbid. But by their offence, salvation is come to the Gentiles, that they may be emulous of them. Now if the offence of them be the riches of the world, and the diminution of them, the riches of the Gentiles; how much more the fulness of them? For I say to you, Gentiles: as long indeed as I am the apostle of the Gentiles, I will honour my ministry, If, by any means, I may provoke to emulation them who are my flesh, and may save some of them. For if the loss of them be the reconciliation of the world, what shall the receiving of them be, but life from the dead? […] For I would not have you ignorant, brethren, of this mystery, (lest you should be wise in your own conceits), that blindness in part has happened in Israel, until the fulness of the Gentiles should come in. And so all Israel should be saved, as it is written: There shall come out of Sion, he that shall deliver, and shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob. And this is to them my covenant: when I shall take away their sins. As concerning the gospel, indeed, they are enemies for your sake: but as touching the election, they are most dear for the sake of the fathers. For the gifts and the calling of God are without repentance. (Romans 11:11-15,25-29)
The Letter of St. Paul to the Romans is certainly one of the most theologically rich (and complex) portions of Scripture. The discussion of the Jews is particularly complicated. Still, we can notice at least a few points from the eleventh chapter.
St. Paul does not seem to think that the Gentiles can be saved without the conversion of the Jews. Whereas St. Luke ends Jesus’ parable with the unbelieving Jews being shut out and left behind, St. Paul emphasizes that the general resurrection will only come when the Jews are received (as an "elect" or "chosen" people) into the household of the faith.
Nor can any claim that St. Paul here means “Jews” and “Israel” in an allegorical sense – as though “Israel” here stood for the Gentile Church. No, the context is quite clear: These “Jews” are those who had fallen away, this same people remains precious to the Lord even though they have not yet believed in the Christ. It is this people, the Jews, who will return – for they have not stumbled so as to fall, but will again be restored to faith.
It is of this same people which St. Paul speaks when he says, And so all Israel should be saved. Not that the Jewish people alone are all Israel, but the Gentiles are grafted into the Jews and become with them all Israel. In other words, the Gentiles are not going to be saved without the Jews: The sons of Israel will not, as a people, be shut out while people come from the north and the south, the east and the west; no, they too will be re-incorporated as the chosen people.
St. Paul states quite directly: But as touching the election, they are most dear for the sake of their fathers. For the gifts and the calling of God are without repentance. How can we possibly think that they are no longer the chosen people, when their election is among the gifts and the calling of God which are without repentance? How can we possibly think that they will not (as a people) be saved?
Still, this does not imply at all that each and every Jew must be saved; no, but as a people, they will be saved. And until the Jews are converted, as a people, the world will not be renewed, for the Gentiles are only saved as having been incorporated into all Israel.
Salvation is from the Jews
Finally, we consider our Savior’s words to the woman of Samaria: Salvation is of the Jews (John 4:22). We turn to the commentary of St. Thomas Aquinas on the Gospel according to St. John:
“Salvation comes from the Jews in three ways. First in their teaching of the truth, for all other peoples were in error, while the Jews held fast to the truth, according to Romans (3:2): What advantage do Jews have? First, they were entrusted with the words of God. Secondly, in their spiritual gifts: for prophecy and the other gifts of the Spirit were given to them first, and from them they reached others: You, i.e., the Gentiles, a wild olive branch, are ingrafted on them, i.e., on the Jews (Rom 11:17); If the Gentiles have become sharers in their (i.e., the Jews’) spiritual goods, they ought to help the Jews as to earthly goods (Rom 15:27). Thirdly, since the very author of salvation is from the Jews, since Christ came from then in the flesh (Rom 9:5).”
And here again there is a tension: For salvation can be said to be from the Jews in two respects. Firstly, it may be from them as being of them. Insofar, as the whole world finds salvation from the Jews – and this is the sense in which St. Thomas interprets the passage.
Second, salvation may be from the Jew as being out of them. In this sense, salvation would have come forth from the Jews as to denote a separation, such that they are now far from salvation.
And yet, even if they are now outside of the household of the faith and separated from salvation, yet they will again be received by God for the sake of their fathers the patriarchs. Are they not the one lost sheep which went astray? Are they not the prodigal son who will be returned to his father? (to take two more parables found only in St. Luke’s Gospel and which [unlike the one above from Luke 13] are more open to an interpretation which would emphasize the return of Israel in a sense closer to that found in St. Paul's Letter to the Romans)
Hence, we should not be surprised if the issue of the relation between the Jews and salvation, and the question of whether or not they are still the chosen people causes some tension and difficulty - this tension exists within the Sacred Texts themselves! But remember, it is only a tension not a contradiction. Perhaps some day we will come to understand that all of history rests with the Jews.


Susan said...

Thank you so much for this commentary on the Jews. I have known many Jews who have become Christians. The depth of their understanding and their joy at knowing their Messiah is amazing. They are, after all the olive tree, while we Gentiles are the ingrafted branches. And thanks be to God for grafting us in.


Michelangelo said...

Dear Father,

Thank you. This passage from Romans has always had great meaning to me, and your explanation of the tension and the two different accents between Luke and Paul really helps me to understand the mystery of the Jews as the Chosen People of God, the current situation, and the future situation. It is a cause for fervent prayer for my own salvation, for the members of the Church, and for the Jews and all those not yet evangelized.

I was just reading from L'Etoile dans La Montagne, certainly the true apparitions of Our Lord and Our Lady, the Angels and Saints, apply to all people, and it is fair to say in a special way to the Jews. The message of renunciation of sin, conversion, and reparation for my sins is universal. A propos of the lost sheep, and the empty arms of the Shepherd, do you know the poem, Maternity, by Alice Meynell? It is my current favorite, even tho I'm an old fart bachelor. It reminds me in a way of the Divine Mercy Chaplet. God bless you, Father.

J. said...

St. Paul does not seem to think that the Gentiles can be saved without the conversion of the Jews.

I'm sorry, but doesn't St. Paul imply the opposite, that the Jews cannot be saved without the conversion of the Gentiles?—"blindness in part has happened in Israel, until the fulness of the Gentiles should come in." Or am I misunderstanding you?

I am not saying this to disagree with what seems to be your central thesis—that "the gifts and the calling of God [to the Jews] are without repentance"—just that I'm unclear how you mean to interpret St. Paul.

What are your thoughts on other, later indications of Divine favor to countries and people groups, such as the popular belief that England is "Mary's dowry"? Such favors must be of a different type than that showed to the Hebrews before Christ, considering the universal mission of the Church in the Christian era.

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

Interesting point ... you are correct that God allowed the Jews to stubble so that the Gentiles might be converted ... still, the final word is that the Jews will then be re-converted and that this return of the Jews (as a people) will effect the final redemption of the whole world.
So, it is not so much that the conversion of the Gentiles saves the Jews (though, as Paul says, it will make them "jealous" so that they will return), but the re-conversion of the Jews saves the Gentiles (just as their fall gave room for the Gentiles).

Hope that makes sense, thank you for stressing the point about how the two peoples assist each other on the way to salvation! +

Petrus Augustinus said...


Correct me if I'm wrong but it seems to me that what St. Paul says is that there'll be no Jews (at the end), only Christians (People of Christ), since all the Jews will convert. In fact (though God knew this was not going to happen, of course) the chosen people of the OT (Jews) should've accepted Christ as Messiah and they should've become Christians. Some of them did (all the Apostles), a lot of them didn't (they've murdered the Messiah instead and invoked His blood on themselves and their offspring).

Now what I'm gathering here (and correct me if I'm wrong) is that God let this thing to happen to Jews, He let them fail, only that they could convert, come back again and be Christians (and possibly save the world). I mean that's what we pray for on the Feast of Christ the King.

This would still mean that:
1. Present-day Jews are not chosen and are not favoured by God.
2. Present-day Jews are not the same as OT Jews.
3.Present-day Jews won't earn Salvation unless they turn Catholic.

BUT! If they turn Catholic, their connection to our Messiah will be stronger than ours? Because they are related by blood?

Sorry father, this might seem as a mess but I still think these are important questions.

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

I (and St. Paul) use the word "Jew" as referring to their natural lineage, not to their religion.
This should clear up most of the points you mentioned in your comment.

Insofar as they are the descendants of the Patriarchs (according to the flesh), they are the chosen people of God.
Insofar as the Apostles and even the Christ came from them (according to the flesh), they are the chosen people of God.
Insofar as they will be converted, as a people (according to the flesh), they are the chosen people of God.

Yes, of course they will have to believe in Christ ... but the fact that God has a special love for this people clearly shows that we can meaningfully state that they are still today a "chosen" people -- for the election of God is irrevocable.

So, yes, I would say that there is something special about the fact that they are related to Jesus by blood ... at least, that is the very clear opinion of St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross (and it is implicitly approved by Bl. John Paul II when he quotes her in the canonization homily).

Hope things are clearer! It is a very difficult topic to be sure! +

Angela said...

Fr. Ryan,

I am not one of your scholarly readers. I feel that I am understanding what you are saying in this post, but I am a little confused about salvation that "comes only from the Jews" as St John says, and as you further stated, "In other words, we Gentiles are not going to be saved without the Jews..."; and added that St. Paul " does not seem to think that the Gentiles can be saved without the conversion of the Jews." I believe that God alone brings everything into fruition, but in the meantime, do we have a responsibility at all to pray for this conversion to come to pass since our fate as Gentiles also hinges on this? I am asking this because Pope Benedict XVI said sometime back that Christianity “must not concern herself with the conversion of the Jews.” Thank you, Father.

CM7 said...

Father, correct me if I am wrong, but I thought the Catholic Church taught that there is nothing left to happen that would prevent the return of Christ, our Lord. If this is the case, then the conversion of the Jews, as a people, is not needed for the salvation of the Gentiles.

Thank you for the reflection.

Pax Christi,

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

Angela and MichaelP,
I'd rather not get into the question of the mission to the Gentiles here ... that deserves a separate article (which I may someday have time to write).

Let me state simply: The concern of the Church to Evangelize the Gentiles most certainly ought to be handled differently from that directed toward the Jews.
This gives room for Pope Benedict's statements on the issue.

And, as to whether the Christ could return soon ... certainly! It is not as though the conversion of the Jews has to be a visible and easily recognizable event ... indeed, much as the Messiah came in a surprising way which did not fit anyone's expectations, it is quite likely that the conversion of the Jews (as a people) will mean something different than we might expect.

Peace to you both! +

Multum Incola said...

But the thing no-one seems to talk about now - what about individual Jews?

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

Multum Incola,
I guess I don't know what you mean ... I think that it has been made pretty clear that no-one is saved except in the name of Christ Jesus our Lord.
Peace to you! +

Petrus Augustinus said...


Thanks for the answer. This would meand that there are two chosen peoples. Us and the Jews.

To MI's question: Well then why on Earth did St. Teresa Benedicta believe that her mum will earn salvation? Clearly she did not (though we never know); she died as a practicing Jew. And the Saint did know: "that no-one is saved except in the name of Christ Jesus our Lord."

Multum Incola said...

I didn't know that St Teresa thought that, nor does it seem particularly important. The question I suppose I am asking is, are you saying that Jews do not have to formally become Christians in order to be saved? I am aware of the correct understanding of extra Ecclesiam nulla salus and all of the associated stuff and the name of Jesus Christ our Lord.

What I mean is, when an individual Jew realises that Our Lord is the Messiah, is it all the same whether he is baptised or not?

I don't understand this 'we shouldn't have a special mission to the Jews' thing. I don't get it because it seems a bit irrelevant. Surely the Church has a mission to ALL of mankind, including both Jew and Gentile?

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

It is clear that it is not absolutely necessary that Jews formally become Christians in order to be saved ... for it is at least theoretically possible that persons of good will who through no fault of their own are ignorant of Christ can yet be saved.
Still, no one is saved (and none were every saved) through the Old Covenant per se -- salvation is only through Christ.

Regarding the mission to the Jews ... I think that we should have a "special mission" to them ... insofar as they should be treated as different from the Gentiles ... and this mission will look much different from the mission to the Gentiles.
In a real sense, they are not included in the 'missio ad gentes', but are in their own class.

Peace to you! +

Multum Incola said...

Father, sorry to keep going but this is something that's been concerning me since Jesus of Nazareth II. I used to hold a universalist view of salvation, in which all were saved through Christ but their acceptance of him in this life was immaterial. As we know the orthodox understanding of ExEcNuSa is, as you said, that it is possible, good will, baptism of desire etc.

But my understanding of it back in the day was because of this, there was no real need to evangelise anyone because the 'saving through Christ' could happen in their last moments, or after death, or whatever.

But it seems unclear at the moment regarding all this post-Jesus of Nazareth II discussions whether or not we're still bound by that understanding that 'God is not bound by the sacraments, but we are'. Because lets be honest, how many Jews are actually of no fault of their own ignorant of Christ? It does not seem in keeping with a hermeneutic of continuity to assume (consciously or otherwise) that anyone who has not accepted Christ as the messiah has failed to do so out of inculpable ignorance (which seems to be a pretty common thing I've encountered at any rate).

Thank you Father for taking the time to respond to these comments, I read the earlier post and I know you find them the most stressful and time-consuming part of it!

J. said...

In a real sense, they are not included in the 'missio ad gentes', but are in their own class.

But in what sense, exactly? A heterodox theologian could use that same wording to defend not evangelizing the Jews. However, if we are to follow the example of Christ and the Apostles, the Church's mission to the Jews should be even more robust and insistent than that to the Gentiles. Unfortunately, the opposite is the rule these days.

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

You asked "in what sense, sense?" ... My reply: Insofar as the Jews are not the "gentes", they are not Gentiles.
Hence, they should be Evangelized according to a different mode.

J. said...

Perhaps I was unclear. In what sense are Jews to be evangelized differently than the Gentiles? Practically speaking, how would this be different?

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

Taking our direction from the Apostles, I would say that the Jews would be evangelized with a stronger focus on how Jesus fulfills the Old Covenant.

The missio ad gentes, on the other hand, might have a stronger philosophical basis -- as in moving from the "unknown god" to "the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ".

Hope that makes sense. +

J. said...

I would say that the Jews would be evangelized with a stronger focus on how Jesus fulfills the Old Covenant.

That seems like a minor difference (at least in practical terms), and one that's quickly becoming irrelevant considering the widespread secularization of Jews in the Western world. If anything, arguing for the Faith from a philosophical starting point is much more difficult than building on the ready-made edifice of the Hebrew religion. I guess I don't see how the mission to the Jews would be "much different" from the mission to the Gentiles, unless—taking our direction from the Apostles—it's that the former is made the priority. But it's exactly this priority which many theologians argue against, suggesting that practicing Jews are fine where they are without conversion.

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

I'm sorry, but if you think that it is a trivial thing to point out to a Jew that he is the descendant of Abraham and of Jesus (and that he is a member of the chosen people) -- if you think that this makes no significant difference in the practical mode of evangelization -- then this discussion will not be fruitful.

And, by the way, it is simply not the case that the Apostles thought the mission to the Jews was primary ... they very quickly abandonded this mission and focused entirely on the Gentiles ... while Peter was the apostle to the Jews, all the other Apostles went to the Gentiles (even James the Less did more [perhaps] with the Gentile converts to Judaism than with the Jews themselves).

And, as far as these "theologians" who suggest that "Jews are fine where they are" ... certainly none of them have written anything on this blog. I radically disagree with such supposed "theologians", but I don't want to waste my time in a comment box bashing them -- especially since they probably don't read my blog anyways.
In any case, what I have said in the post would contradict their mistaken ideas.

J. said...

Apologies if you felt I was leveling any accusations towards you. Nothing of the sort was meant to be implied. I have merely been looking for a certain clarity on these matters, but I fear we've been talking past each other instead.

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

I see I missed responding to your last comment.

I did not intend to imply that I thought you were attacking either me or Fr. Martin, I only meant to say that the liberal theologians to which you refer (those who think that the Jews are saved by the Old Covenant) are really not my concern -- they are so far gone!

Also, I mean to say that I just don't have time to attack these theologians -- their own claim is utterly rediculous, since NO ONE ever (not before Christ and not after Christ) no one has been saved by the Old Covenant per se, but only insofar as the Old Covenant is related to the New ... all salvation has always come through Christ Jesus and the New Covenant in his Blood.

However, regarding the current state of affairs ... it is pretty clear from the Apostolic tradition that we are to be focused primarily upon the Gentiles -- esp. St. Paul makes this clear when he states that now is the time for the conversion of the Gentiles (since the Jews have stumbled).
This conversion of the Gentiles will excite a holy jealousy among the Jews and they too will return!

I hope that this makes sense ... I really don't think you and I are talking past each other ... I think we are saying very much the same thing, but in a different language.

Peace to you in Christ our Savior. +