A rabbinical chap named Yori Yanover expresses his disgust at members of the Tribe who celebrate Christmas: “The Perversion of Jews for Christmas.” The article is from The Jewish Press (I know, I know—as opposed to?).
Thankfully, Yanover’s fully blossomed spite and hatred of Christianity is not widespread, but I suspect that, based on attitudes and actions freely and often expressed by rabbinical communities, the kernel of Yanover’s opinion occurs extensively among Jewish climes. The “War on Christmas” is merely standard contemporary Jewish-Christian relations by another name. I never stop being surprised by the shortsighted inanity of rabbinical Jews. Whither will this behavior lead? What about seriously and strategically pondering IIGFTJ?
By contrast, I recently watched a pleasant, jewlicious Yuletide film, Switchmas (né Ira Finkelstein’s Christmas, then All I Want Is Christmas):
The silly but sweet film reminded me of the America of my youth—before the Yori Yanovers of the world grabbed the megaphone to play out their resentments on the world’s stage. Wasn’t the stand-up circuit enough?
I wish you a blessed feast of the Dormition today!
On the occasion of the feast, I offer Kristor’s heavenly musings on the Orthosphere yesterday: “Creatura : Creator :: Map : Territory.” It is worth your time.
Christ is risen!
It is a funny thing how many of us expect to pay for the good things that we experience through suffering in the future. We do not consider Fortune a capricious dame but rather a diligent keeper of accounts who ensures that happiness must be balanced by misery. We do not enjoy blessings easily because we suspect that horrible news awaits us just around the corner; the time of reckoning must come.
Perhaps, this attitude is due to our fundamental suspicions about our place in providence, as I noted in “Pessimist,” but I wonder if something more universal is at work. In this world of finitude, men are always in need. As such, they do not give away what treasure or skill they have until they have secured their necessities. Instead, they trade, and most everything has a price—and everyone has to accept limits.
It is easy to interpret our relationship with God within this framework. Natural religion—paganism—does this explicitly, and we heirs of Abraham often harbor some residual pagan opinions of mortal-divine bartering. We pray for blessings, and we speculate about the cost. We might propose deals to God—and then worry about our failing to keep our end. In all this, we assume that God is like man—that he must exact a payment. Yet, we forget that the bartering economy arises from limited resources. The divine economy has no such restraint. As Kristor Lawson often remarks on the Orthosphere, God creates ex nihilo, and God’s free giving of being radically differs from the world of the market. God has no need and requires nothing of us for his own benefit. For God is perfect. In what way could a perfect being benefit?
But, then, what of us and of our relationship with God? What does the perfect God have to do with us besides creating and holding us in existence? Is he simply that timeless clock maker and tinkerer? This question troubles many folks who deal with the dilemma either by depersonalizing God or by reducing God to a creaturely level. A good example of the latter is another Orthospheran, Bruce Charllton, who praises Mormonism for its anthropomorphic understanding of God. For how can we have a relationship with the “beyond being” that has any resemblance to the scriptural images of the relationship between God and man: father and son, king and subject, bridegroom and bride, and so on. What can the Perfect and Unchanging get in return for our devotion?
I believe that those human relationship images indicate an answer—or rather the path to the answer. What binds human beings as human beings more than love? Love is an odd dynamic, whereby the lover gives and benefits in such giving by rendering good to the beloved. What does the lover get besides the happiness of being a lover? Perhaps love in return, and such certainly adds to act of loving as a completion, but true love is not a payment in expectation of a return. The happiness of love is in the act itself. It is, we might say on many levels, a pure act.
God is the lover par excellence. In the divine liturgy, we call the Lord the lover of mankind—φιλάνθρωπος. God cannot be defined, but Christians have always used love as the best way to talk about God. God is love and the archetype of love. In Christianity alone may we maintain that love is essential to God. According to rabbinical Judaism and Mohammedanism, love requires creation; God only loves that which he creates. So, love is a created force, even if God eternally loves that which comes to be in time. Christians, however, believe that the community of the Trinity is one of eternal love—which is essential to God—and that this relationship is the ground of all existence. We do not judge that we anthropomorphize the cosmos when we speak of love among non-human beings. Rather, we believe that human love in its many forms is an imitation of and participation in the fount of reality—God’s inner life of love.
As with so many dilemmas that result from trying to pigeonhole the Almighty into creaturely categories, the problem disappears when we reflect upon God. God is the Lord of both/and and not simply either/or (ha!), and he freely gives being and goodness. God only enters the marketplace of exchange to rectify our creaturely debts; in such manner are we bought with a price—and yet God frees his bondsmen.
Truly, he is risen!
As I was digging in the yard this week, a thought came to me about a widespread contemporary phenomenon among Christians in the West—the nascence and spread of rabbinical Christianity. By rabbinical Christianity, I do not mean Christianity dominated by teachers—though one might say that is another woeful current fad—but rather one that sees Christian morality in the same way that rabbinical Jews see the Mosaic law. According to most currents of rabbinical Judaism, the Mosaic law only places obligations on Jews. The heathen gentiles have no such requirements. Certain rabbinical traditions hold that God’s universal moral law—applicable to all people—is contained in the Noahide law, which is far less demanding.
Christians altered this framework as they developed their understanding of natural law from Hebraic and Greco-Roman philosophy and law. Doctors of the Church taught that men may know the natural law according to reason, while the moral perfection of love is revealed only through and by Christ. Natural law is applicable to all people as they are—like the Noahide law, while the vocation to become truly Christlike is for all people, as well, though this universal call to holiness does not come naturally. I am not completely comfortable with the clean demarcations of reason and revelation or of nature and grace, but I think that the categories point to some basic realities.
Unlike their forebears, these latter day rabbinical Christians no longer appreciate natural law. For them, what once was considered according to reason now only applies to them as Christians who keep their religion’s way of life. The new Noahide law—the modern ius gentium—has devolved to the contradictory moral notions of liberal society—namely an idiosyncratically limited tolerance and an emotional version of warm fuzzy kindness. When traditional Christians advocate the upholding of the natural law, these rabbinicists rebuke them by arguing that it is not just for Christians to impose Christian morality on the heathen who have no way of living up to such stringent demands. For them, what was once deemed according to nature has become possible only by grace. Hence, the practical reason of the Greek philosophers is now only for the “chosen people” of Christians. Unlike the Hebrews, though, Christians must not take any pride in being thus chosen. Like the self-hating Jew, Christian morality (meaning natural law—not the sacrificial perfection of true Christian morality) is their “special burden.”
I conjecture that rabbinical Christianity has resulted from Christians’ attempting to reconcile their moral tradition with liberal society. According to the previous Western tradition, human beings may know the human good both from reason and from revelation, while liberalism denies that there is any human good or, if there is, that it is knowable. Thus, each human will may decide its own good. These two positions cannot coexist peacefully in the same soul. For traditionalists, we simply reject liberalism as wrong. Accommodationist Christians who have accepted the transformation of Western civilization, however, must find a way to live with their cognitive dissonance. For man is a rational animal, and he must try to rationalize his contradictions. Therefore, liberalized Christians reserve natural law for themselves like the old Mosaic law, while they follow the rest of society in acknowledging any further demands upon human beings. The Frankfort School is their Noah.
The Orthodox Life has a short but interesting post on the sacred artwork of early synagogues: “Ancient Jewish Icons.” Yale’s EIKON site features many images from the pictured Dura Europos Synagogue. It looks strikingly like an Orthodox Temple.
Earlier in the year, I visited the Dead Sea Scrolls exhibit at Cincinnati’s Museum Center. I did not have time to visit the Israel Museum when I was in Jerusalem, and I was happy to get to see some of the Qumran fragments. Since the exhibit only had a few dozen pieces, it padded the experience with hundreds of artifacts from ancient Israel, including spears and stones from the Assyrian attack on Lachish as well as commemorative displays from Nineveh that celebrated Sennacherib’s success. The oldest object was a three thousand year old four horn shaped altar. I never knew before exactly what they looked like. I also learnt more about the money changers in the Temple; the exhibit had a pile of Tyrian shekels. There was also a small section on Masada, which featured a tartan garment that had been left at Masada by a Roman soldier during or after the siege. One wonders if the soldier had bought the clothing while stationed near the Caledonian border—or if he was born among those ever savage northerners! There were many other items from everyday life—from religious objects to commercial tools to home goods to political propaganda.
The exhibit as well as my amateur archaeological adventures in the Holy Land contradict the iconoclastic notions of biblical Israel held by certain Protestant groups—as if the detailed descriptions of the two Temples and of the Temple rituals in holy writ were not enough to dispel the folly of white walled Calvinists. The Lord, the Lord our God, is a Lord of color and form. Let the iconoclasts seek after their nihilism; we worship the Lord in spirit and in truth.
Yesterday, I mentioned Auster’s post, “The afterlife and Christ,” wherein Auster refers to a View from the Right entry from three years ago—“The Gospels: too embarrassing to be fiction”—that concerns Frank Turek’s argument for trusting the scriptural accounts of Jesus. I remember reading the post, but I do not think that I commented on it before. It is good. Here is an excerpt by Turek:
If men were inventing the resurrection story, it would go more like this:
Jesus came to save the world, and he needed our help. That’s why we were there for him every step of the way. When he was in need, we prayed with him. When he wept, we wept with him (and told him to toughen up!). When he fell, we carried his cross. The gates of Hell could not prevent us from seeing his mission through!
So when that turncoat Judas brought the Romans by (we always suspected Judas), and they began to nail Jesus to the cross, we laughed at them. “He’s God you idiots! The grave will never keep him! You think you’re solving a problem, but you’re really creating a much bigger one!”
While we assured the women that everything would turn out all right, they couldn’t handle the crucifixion. Squeamish and afraid, they ran to their homes screaming and hid behind locked doors.
But we men stood steadfast at the foot of the cross, praying for hours until the very end. When Jesus finally took his last breath and the Roman Centurion confessed that Jesus was God, Peter blasted him, “That’s what we told you before you nailed him up there!” (Through this whole thing, the Romans and the Jews just wouldn’t listen!)
Never doubting that Jesus would rise on the third day, Peter announced to the Centurion, “We’ll bury him and be back on Sunday. Now go tell Pilate to put some of your ‘elite’ Roman guards at the tomb to see if you can prevent him from rising from the dead!” We all laughed and began to dream about Sunday.
That Sunday morning we marched right down to the tomb and tossed those elite Roman guards aside. Then the stone (that took eleven us to roll into place) rolled away by itself. A glowing Jesus emerged from tomb, and said, “I knew you’d come! My mission is accomplished.” He praised Peter for his brave leadership and congratulated us on our great faith. Then we went home and comforted the trembling women.
Turek’s article and Auster and his readers’ comments will surely bring a smile to your face.
On the Orthosphere, Roebuck continues his treatment of Mormonism about which I wrote last week in “Mormons and Jesus.” His latest post, “The Basic Case against Mormonism and Other Pseudo-Christianities,” defends the necessity of proper theology for the Christian life. I commented:
And some, seeing the bad state of current Christian culture, hold that traditional Christianity is largely a failure. These people want an institutional Christianity that appears culturally successful.
[This objection, unlike those above, is at least based on a true premise. Current Christian culture is in a deplorable state. But this is not a valid reason to contradict the teachings of Christ.]
Charlton makes this point repeatedly in condemning “mainstream” Christianity. Each time that he raises that point, I want to state, following the old saying, that the problem with Christianity is the Christians, while the problem with Mormonism is Mormonism. Charlton and like-minded individuals may respond that a good tree does not bear rotten fruit, but even a good tree with put forth some nasty crops if it is placed in a cellar with little light or if it is continually malnourished. I am an Orthodox Christian, a member of the Russian Church, and I believe that the Orthodox Church is “the Church.” However, I readily admit the problems that exist among Orthodox Christians. The modern world is explicitly anti-Christian in so many ways, and its hostile, corrupting influence is a severe thorn in Christians’ sides. In the early centuries, the pagan world persecuted the Church, and the Church prevailed. Such is happening again. We often fail to remember all the compromises and the lukewarm folks who betrayed the faith in the early centuries, thinking only of the victorious martyrs. Yet, I wonder what the real numbers were. I assume that many Christians missed the mark in living out the gospel radically, but the Church eventually triumphed over idolatry and wickedness, as it will do so in the future. Every age has its peculiar temptations and occasions for apostasy, and I believe that the current age is the most insane, most depraved period in history. It should not surprise us, then, that so many of the faithful fail—and fail so miserably—at their vocations of discipleship. However, persecution also brings forth martyrs, and that bitter cup in the modern world teems with witnesses. In Orthodox lands, we have seen countless martyrs, confessors, and lifelong strugglers who lived and died for the Lord under the theomachist Communist regimes. In the West, consider the virtuous men and women who have held fast to the Good since the perfidy of modernity exposed its bloody jaws; from the patriots of la Vendée to today, there has been a strong minority of those who have maintained a view of heaven despite the clouds of modern confusion.
When Charlton points to Rome, the Orthodox, or confessional Protestants with a condemning finger due to the sorry state of their larger societies and of their nominal members, he errs in his sampling. When Mormons fail at being Mormon, they “leave the church” and become, well, Utahns (or the equivalent secular person elsewhere) due to the ostracism factor in Mormonism. That is a model of ecclesial discipline, and it has its advantages and disadvantages. And there are disadvantages—we are dealing with salvation here, and the stakes are quite high. Rome could increase its healthy piety stats if it took a different course, but such heavy handed discipline might jeopardize millions of souls by burning bridges on the Tiber, so to speak. Thus, grievous sinner O’Donnell continues to consider himself Catholic until his death, though he lives worse than a pagan. Yet, his continued affiliation with the Church remains for him a lifeline. The door remains open. What is the “recidivism” rate of Mormon defectors? Outside Mormon majority areas? I bet that Rome’s rates of return are much higher.
Besides, we are traditionalists, are we not? We are not soulless devotees of the latest fad in social science. We try to avoid tunnel vision, especially in only considering our own age. Charlton mentions fertility as an indicator of who is following the golden path. Right before the Great War, Russian Christians had one of the highest fertility rates in history. I recommend that you read “Young Russia: The Land of Unlimited Possibilities” from National Geographic in November, AD 1914. Ignorant of what future terrors awaited the empire, the writer predicted that Russia would have six hundred million people by the end of the twentieth century. However, a bloody revolution, a civil war, two world wars, including an invasion, generations of suffering under Communist tyranny and its consequent social and material depravity, and the influences of alien ideologies have reduced the fertility of Russian women to below replacement levels. Is this surprising? Are we really to blame Orthodox dogma and praxis for this? (Fortunately, that decline is starting to reverse!) Moreover, the same Churches that Charlton condemns provided centuries and centuries of healthy societies, thousands of saints, and, in summation, post-classical Western civilization! What has Mormonism given us besides good looking, clean cut blond families with a social ethic that would have been considered normal and unremarkable sixty years ago?
Everyone on this site pretty much agrees that contemporary society is mad. It is to be expected that Christians who live in this madness will be affected negatively, and we must implement and follow special survival strategies if we are to keep our good sense among the crazies. Forming and living within a counterrevolutionary subculture is one such strategy (the best option, in my opinion), and that is what the Mormons have done. The region of the country under their influence—from northern Arizona to Idaho—is a lovely land mostly populated by hearty WASPs descended from frontier stock. Their governors (their prophet and quorum of the twelve) live in this subculture and rule with its good in mind. However, if we formed a governing body from the men of any Christian group in this region, we would likely get some rather sensible people, too. I suppose that even the Episcopalians in Idaho are solid folks. Then, if these hypothetical rulers only made decisions with this subculture’s denizens in mind, they would probably come up with moral standards and social controlling decisions quite like the Mormons. Rome’s (or Russia’s or Germany’s vel alia) bishops do not have that luxury. Their flocks live in darker places, and the bishops have to keep them in mind and govern accordingly. Nonetheless, where there are counterrevolutionary subcultures among the papists (Society of Saint Pius X, for instance) or the Orthodox (say, ROCOR), you find even more sanity than what you see among the Mormons, just as traditional, healthy lifestyles and local communities are common among Orthodox Jews, Mennonites, traditionalist Lutherans, and so on. As the LDS move toward the mainstream and embrace accommodation for the larger society, they will become more like the Jones. Or, to be more precise, they will be like the Romneys and Huntsmans, only without the wealth, breeding, and industry of those elites. In other words, the average Mormon will resemble the average Methodist more and more. Of course, the Mormons’ wise men may switch course and refortify.
Rather than looking at such outward statistics, which is more a matter of how much one resists and sets oneself apart from the larger, godless culture (and such ghettoization comes with a cost), Charlton should ask where one can find Christ taught and glorified—where one finds truth, where one finds a path to holiness. In Greek jargon, we seek to unite ourselves with the Lord’s body and thus to become like God (theosis). Is that possible in the LDS? Roebuck argues no. The Church from the apostles to today has argued against heresies that resemble Mormonism in many ways (including Mohammedanism), and it seems reasonable to hearken unto such warnings.
Anglican Bruce Charlton asks “Is it possible to be fully Eastern Orthodox in the modern world?”:
Orthodoxy is Christianity in a Christian society - that is, in a Christian monarchy, where the ideal is that all of life be harmoniously integrated into a framework for the highest possible development of theosis (sanctification, spiritual progress toward communion with God while on earth) - where the matter of developing Saints is, in a sense, the primary and structuring goal of society.
This situation is gone from the earth, since the Russian Revolution of 1917; and the conditions for it do not exist anywhere.
Is it gone forever? Various prophecies concerning the End Times (which I have seen collected in the works of Fr Seraphim Rose) suggest that Orthodox Monarchy could be restored in Russia - and perhaps spread from there to some extent; but that is the only possibility, and may not happen if other choices are made.
Absent an Orthodox society, Eastern Orthodoxy is broadly similar in the outlines of its practice to Roman Catholicism and Liturgical Protestant denominations - indeed I suspect it is less well adapted to modern life, and the adherents of (for example) some evangelical Protestant churches are in practice able to reach a higher level of devoutness, of Christian life, of sanctification and/or theosis - than are Orthodox believers.
What Orthodoxy preserves is the memory of an ideal; and this then serves as a context or structure for modern Christian life; which necessarily proceeds at a much lower level (or not at all, in the large majority of modern people).
What Orthodoxy gives us the fullness of Christianity, and the proper balance and focus of Christianity - nowadays in ideal and in memory rather than in lived practice; because the Orthodox Church amputated from the Orthodox state is a partial and broken thing.
So, I believe that all Christian should (!) read, understand, assent to the ideal of Orthodoxy as instantiated in the Byzantine tradition - not as a perfection of Christian life (perfection is not attainable on earth), not indeed anything near perfection - but as the highest form of Christian development yet seen: a society saturated in Christianity which bred and sustained devoutness and the religious life - including many Saints.
But Orthodox monarchy will not arise in the West, and the high Christian life will not again be possible.
In general, I agree with Charlton here. Orthodox Christianity is communal by nature, and such a communal life does not fit well in a post-Christian society. I have commented before that fundamentalist Protestants have better success in catechizing their children because their religion is itself a development of and response to the modern West. In Darwinian terms, such Protestants are fit for our contemporary environment. Such folks take it for granted that religious instruction is up to them and that their families walk as sheep in a hostile world full of wolves. By contrast, the “village” model of Roman Catholicism and Orthodoxy assumes that children will learn the faith from the Christian life lived among Christians. They neglect focused catechesis and rely on a sort of cultural osmosis. However, Christians largely do not live among Christians; the noetic “air” that we breathe is opposite Orthodox Christianity. Unless Orthodox parents inculcate a separate identity for their families, their children will become as the world. As I have written before, when Roman Catholics left their ethno-religious ghettoes to assimilate into mainstream America, they thereby started down the path of secular Calvinism. The implementation of the Second Vatican Council provided the occasion for vast Protestantization, iconoclasm, and apostasy among American papists, but I do not think that it was the reason for it. If Roman Catholics and Orthodox Christians wish their families to maintain the faith from generation to generation, they need to learn from the fundamentalist Protestants—and from the rabbinical Jews of yore, who have a remarkable record. Their fortress under siege mentality combined with their self identity as an exiled people set apart preserve them as a distinct group. When Christians live beyond the borders of Christendom, they must learn to do the same.
I disagree with Charlton’s pessimism regarding the possibility of Christendom’s return. We are currently witnessing the slow and admittedly painful rebirth of Christian civilization in Orthodox lands, but the Eastern phoenix rises nonetheless. I actually expect to see the restoration of Russian Orthodox autocracy or a modified form of it in this century, and I do not say that from mere wishful thinking. Our age is an anomaly; we ought not to take it as the measure of the future. For it is silly that critics of the Enlightenment (sic) adopt the Enlightenment’s own chauvinism about its necessary historical victory.
However, Charlton’s pessimism mostly concerns the West. Even so, I do not think that the West can long continue its nihilistic devolution. The madness will stop; it is unsustainable. Moreover, strong Christian polities in the East will have an effect on Western nations, especially in the encouragement that they will provide to traditional Westerners. Consider how Saudi oil money and Mohammedan immigration have transformed the West—largely against the will of Western peoples. Let us suppose that Western man’s primal tribal urges to survive will reassert themselves—something that we should expect once the money runs out that keeps the masses well fed, entertained, and complacent. The rebellion against the former regime’s puppet masters and against their various tools and pets will be severe. The Left will rue the absence of Christianity and of its restraints upon the population when the bestial character of the populace manifests itself against them. The old order will crumble, and those left standing will pick up the pieces and rebuild. The traditional Christian remnant, if they survive being massacred in the chaos, will have default authority among a people hungry for a return to a known stability that is not the regime from which they just revolted. Once again, a Christian empire in the East will send agents of order to the West to assist their brethren.
An alternative history fantasy? Perhaps—though it seems far more likely than the ridiculous futurism of the last century that betrayed its utter ignorance of the human condition in countless ways. In two or three hundred years, I expect throngs of people to be marching in procession around Chartres singing to the Lord. Our descendents may even see a king crowned again in Reims. The future is unknown to us.
Have a blessed feast of the Conception of the Theotokos tomorrow!
I wish you a merry feast of Saint Nicholas!
In the spirit of the saint is a lovely account about charity in The Detroit News: “Most Holy Trinity Christmas Party crosses religious lines to help kids in need.” Read about the Ecclesiatical Shakedown Society and smile at a very American Christmas story.
And may your holidays be bright!
The AHC seeks to help preserve the corporate identity and heritage of the People Israel within the Church. By gathering the Jews who have entered the Church, we hope to help them rekindle and live out their collective vocation, giving corporate witness to Jesus, the Messiah of Israel and His Church.
A.H.C president David Moss provides an informative interview for Faith Magazine: “Are Jewish Converts still Jewish?”
The problem of Jewish identity may briefly be described as follows. When a Jew enters the Church, he enters into a community and culture that has become sociologically, for want of a better word, Gentile. The term Gentile refers to the non-Israelite peoples of the world.
Consequently, the Jewish convert is separated from his people, his culture and his heritage. Then, through assimilation to the prevailing culture, his offspring are no longer considered part of the People Israel.
Most importantly, the corporate vocation given to the People Israel can no longer be fulfilled, either in the convert or in his offspring. This is the case because, since the 3rd or 4th century, the People Israel have not had a corporate presence in the Church. Thus, in the Jews that enter the Church, the People terminate.
What do you mean, the people terminate?
The basic way that Jews preserve themselves and their heritage is through their offspring. The Jewish community recognizes the offspring as a Jew and, therefore, a member of the People Israel. Through the community, the individual is given his or her identity as a member of that community.
However, when a Jew enters the Church and marries, there is no community recognition of the offspring as members of the People Israel. Thus, the offspring, in effect, become Gentile. And even if the family attempts to preserve some aspects of their heritage, by the second or third generation, those aspects have disappeared and the offspring have completely lost any sense of their identity as Israelites.
So, even if the convert continues to describe himself in terms of his Jewish origins, the preservation of the People through his offspring comes to a halt. Thus, my statement that ‘the People terminate’.
That explains why, when I was interviewing a Rabbi about interfaith marriage, he stated that every Jew that converts or marries and does not raise their children Jewish - that is like another Holocaust. I was startled by the comment. Is this what he was referring to?
Yes. The way it’s communicated doesn’t add clarity. But, the Rabbi uses the term holocaust in the sense of how many Jews are lost. The People Israel have a God-given vocation in this world. They, therefore, also have an obligation to preserve themselves and their vocation.
Auster addresses the same issue in his post, “Made Whole.” When one of Auster’s readers, a Jewish Christian, noted that he felt alienated due to his becoming a Christian, Auster responded:
Two caveats. First, I would say that while some Jews have an intense negative reaction against Jews who have become Christians, not all do.
Second, I, as a Jew who became a Christian, want to assure Jewish readers, who may be concerned on this point, that I have no design to use this site to encourage the conversion of Jews to Christianity. In this area, I am truly a respecter of individuality and of the uniqueness of the Jewish people.
I first expressed my thoughts on this subject many years ago when a Christian friend asked a question that Christians often ask: “Why didn’t the Jews at the time of Jesus become Christians?”
I answered more or less as follows:
Under Judaism, the believers come into relationship with God by collectively following the Jewish law. Under Christianity, the believers comes into relationship with God by individually following Jesus Christ. Judaism and Christianity are two different religions, two different approaches to God. They are not interchangeable. If the Jews had become Christians, they would have ceased to exist as Jews. Since they were the recipients and legatees of the first revelation of the true God, which they naturally valued above all else, it would have been unreasonable to expect them to give that up, to give up the Jewish dispensation, to give up their very identity and existence as a people formed around that dispensation, in order to become followers of Jesus. Of course some Jews, who were called, did follow Jesus. But the majority didn’t. While I believe that the Christian revelation is higher and truer and more complete than the Jewish revelation, the Jewish revelation, as the predecessor of the Christian revelation and the very condition of its existence, should be respected.
I then wrote the following comment. Auster’s response commentary is in bold:
I do not believe that Providence drives history in an absolute sense. The world is too wicked, and there are far too many nobler and better roads untraveled. God works with us and through us, but it appears as if he refuses to play chess with men as his pawns. That said, I often wonder why something like a “Mosaic rite” never came to pass.
I empathize with your view of rabbinical Judaism. It would be a loss to see its wisdom perish. Yet, Christ did not come to destroy the law but to fulfill it. [LA replies: This is one of Jesus’ statements in which he is speaking his own language, not ordinary language. He may have meant that he was fulfilling the Jewish law in the true, spiritual sense, but from the ordinary point of view of the Jews, he certainly was coming to destroy it. There is no question that his teachings meant the end of the Jewish religion, for example, of the laws governing the Sabbath. So let’s drop the Kumbaya and frankly admit that there was an either-or situation here.] I wondered why you reacted so negatively when Ann Coulter had her episode with Donny Deutsch [covered here]. Perhaps, your opinion about the everlastingness of the covenant played a part. However, I do not see why there could not be a rabbinical expression of Christianity for the descendents of Jacob. It appears that such was the early Church in Palestine and among the diaspora communities throughout the empire. Had more Jews converted, then perhaps something like Mosaic law Christians would have survived. As it was, Jewish Christians were absorbed into the general mass of Christians, the vast majority of which converted from the nations.
I also do not think that Christians come to Jesus Christ as individuals. That is a rather modern, and to be frank, Protestant, manner of describing Christianity. The gospel is not a set of intellectual doctrines but rather the life in Christ, which is a life of being fellow members of one body. Christianity is essentially communal, even for the hermit in the desert. [LA replies: Good point about the communal nature of Christianity, but at the same time Jesus is constantly telling his disciples what they need to do to enter the Kingdom of Heaven, and in the Gospel of John this is primarily through the relationship of the individual person with Jesus Christ. A community of believers may share in that relationship, but each individual must have it. Paul said, “Work out your own salvation.” Each of us is an individual self and center of consciousness. Even within a church community, each of us must experience for ourselves—and thus each of us must figure out in practical terms for ourselves—what the Way consists of.]
I certainly do not know what is correct when it comes to the relationship / extension / fulfillment of God’s covenant(s) with man. Yet, it seems reasonable to think that the Mosaic law, and the special way of life that developed among the Jews, does not preclude Christianity. It was the seed bed of the apostolic mission. I see no reason why it needed to end. I suspect that thoughts to the contrary demonstrate a spectacular success for hell’s strategic planning.
P.S. Thank you for your post on Saint Mark’s gospel. I find it odd that few people comment on the humor in the scripture. The reaction of the disciples to Jesus’ comment about having been touched is very funny. Like the boy who fell asleep and then fell out of the window during Paul’s preaching—no one seems to notice that they’re funny.
I therefore find it heartening that there is an organized effort to establish something like what I proposed to Auster in the Roman Church. Moss continues in his explanation of his association’s purpose:
Our goal is to preserve the identity and heritage of Israelites within the Catholic Church, through the establishment of a Hebrew Catholic Community juridically approved by the Holy See.
By identity, I mean their election (calling, vocation). The election is a choice of God that applies to the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, that is, to the People Israel of the flesh. It is collective and it is eternal.
Today, the Jew who enters the Church is unable to fulfill his vocation as a member of the People. Instead, he enters the Church and assimilates to the prevailing culture.
Isn’t this true of all cultures or is that not a fair question?
There are similarities. You can look at converts from other peoples, cultures and religions and, at times, see their own people turn against them because they feel like the convert has betrayed them.
In these cases, we are dealing with human nature. In the case of the People Israel, however, the issue is of a people created, formed, and preserved by God, a people still intimately connected to the ongoing drama of salvation history.
For example, the Catechism states that Jesus will not return until all Israel recognizes Him. Thus, it appears that there is a connection between that part of the People Israel we identify as Jews and the second coming of Jesus.
Yet, how will His people recognize Him if they are not given the opportunity to consider the Gospel? And, since the program of the Church today, with respect to the Jews, is one of dialogue, not evangelization, how will the opportunity to consider the Gospel arise?
I believe the dialogue is important and good because of the history of Catholic Jewish relations. Healing, respect, trust, honest communications, learning about the other, and shared efforts in the social arena are all necessary and important.
Yet, the dialogue has its problems. One problem arises from the efforts of some Catholics within the dialogue, as is also the case in other Catholic disciplines, to re-interpret Scripture and Tradition to the detriment of the Catholic Faith. Thus, in attempting to deal with issues that have negatively and unjustly affected the Jews, they are betraying the Catholic Faith.
What do you mean? Who is betraying the Catholic Faith?
Let me give an example outside of the dialogue which takes an extreme form: the Jesus seminar. Here, theologians vote on whether passages really reflect the words of Jesus or not. When one looks at the results of their votes, one finds that the New Testament has completely lost its character as the inspired Word of God. Others have questioned or challenged the truths of the virgin birth, the resurrection of our Lord, the miracles of the loaves, and so forth. I could go on.
Within the dialogue, you will find the aberrant notion that there are two parallel paths to salvation: one for the Jews, which is Rabbinical Judaism, and one for the Gentiles, which is Christianity. Of course, one may ask: How then do we explain that the Church was formed by Jews? that Jesus, Mary, the apostles and almost all the early believers were Jews?
Overall, however, the dialogue is necessary, important, and producing good fruit.
Returning to your original question about the goals of the AHC: I already mentioned our primary aim that is focused on preserving the People Israel within the Church. With the establishment of a Hebrew Catholic Community, the other major aim will begin to develop, that is, restoring the heritage of Israel to the life of the Church.
For 3,500 years, God has formed the People Israel. There is much in their literature, their culture, and in their spiritual and moral disciplines that will edify Catholics. God has given them certain gifts and called them, as a Servant People, to be a blessing to the nations. As a People living out their vocation within the Church, I believe they will be a blessing to the life and mission of the Church, and to their brethren outside the Church, the Jewish people.
I do not yet know what ecclesiastical format the Hebrew Catholic Community will take. There is much work that has to be done by theologians and those involved with canon law.
Scripture states that “for everything there is a season and a time for every matter under heaven.” The AHC makes the case that the time is at hand to restore the People Israel, as a People, to the life of the Church.
So in Acts, where they discuss the problem of Gentiles entering the Church, the issue was do Gentiles need to become Jews before they can become Christian. What you are saying is that it is reversed? Now the question is can you be a Jew and become Christian?
Yes. Let me state the question as it has been asked of me: “Can I, a Jew, become a Christian without becoming a Gentile?”
In Acts, the Church was made up primarily of Jews. Through observance of the Torah, the People Israel had been formed by God to be a holy people, separated from the pagan world surrounding them. The Mosaic laws not only formed them, but it preserved them as a people.
In the New Covenant, where the Gentiles were being grafted onto the People Israel through baptism, the following dilemma faced the Jews: How were they to retain their identity if they now no longer had to observe all of the Mosaic laws?
For example, the laws regarding ritual purity (such as the dietary laws), had helped keep them a distinct people. But, in the new dispensation, Jews began to eat with Gentiles. It became apparent that their distinctiveness could no longer be preserved through these laws. And in those early days, while the understanding of what Jesus had taught was developing, you can read in the New Testament where some of the early Jewish followers of Jesus continued to observe the Torah. In fact, this situation continued through the next two or three centuries, while the People Israel maintained a corporate presence in the early Church.
But the reversal of the situation in Acts is not the only reversal we are witnessing. St. Paul, speaking to the Gentiles, taught that they, the Gentiles, had received mercy because of the failure of the majority of the Jews to believe in Jesus. But a time would come when the Gentiles, who had the faith, would lose it. And, from their failure, the Jews would again receive mercy. And with mercy, all Israel would be saved, bringing about the return to faith of the apostate Gentiles. I believe we have entered that phase of salvation history.
As I wrote in “The Vain Queen Consort,” ethnic chauvinism has been a stumbling block for the Jews, and Moss and such men must be vigilant not to succumb to this tendency. I find his use of “gentile” for non-Hebrew Christians somewhat problematic. The world is full of many nations, and I do not think that the Lord intends for their dissolution. John writes of the New Jerusalem in the book of Revelation:
I did not see a temple in the city, because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp. The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their splendor into it. On no day will its gates ever be shut, for there will be no night there. The glory and honor of the nations will be brought into it. Nothing impure will ever enter it, nor will anyone who does what is shameful or deceitful, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life.
Auster thus comments:
In the New Jerusalem, the heavenly city, there are still distinct nations, and kings of nations, and these are the glories of humanity which are brought before the throne of God, and there transfigured in the light of Christ. Mankind, following the end of the world, is still providentially constituted of separate nations, which give it its character and distinctiveness, even as, for example, our earth is constituted of separate continents, islands, mountain ranges, and valleys, which give it its shape and its meaning. The physical earth is not a homogenous mass consisting of nothing but “equal” individual particles, and neither, in the biblical view, is mankind.
We need to keep such passages along with God’s covenants in mind when we ponder Paul’s letter to the Galatians:
But before faith came, we were kept under the law, shut up unto the faith which should afterwards be revealed. Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith. But after that faith is come, we are no longer under a schoolmaster. For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus. And if ye be Christ’s, then are ye Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.
As human sexuality is part of God’s plan, so are the nations. Yet, there is a more fundamental unity through Christ, who redeems and transfigures us into something even higher than the apex of creation. As such, Moss’ basic categorization of men into Hebrews and the nations—that is, everyone else—appears to go against two thousand years of Christian practice. If we are to dismiss heretical revisionism that has delusions of recovering the “authentic gospel” from “Pauline distortions,” we must take the tradition seriously. I am open to exploring roads not traveled, as mentioned above, and I would welcome a development of something like my imagined Mosaic rite, but the primary distinction among men for Christians is between those who have answered the invitation to come to the feast and those who have not yet answered. If certain merrymakers wear distinctive hats and eat special foods, then there is room at the banquet for such differences.
Moreover, we mortals do not know who will be kicked out of the party for having come unprepared, and we do not know who may be on the way to the festivities though they have not yet arrived. So, we ought to beware of triumphalism due to our presence at the festival.
I wish Moss and his friends the best in their endeavors. I would like to see the same development in the Orthodox Church. When I was researching places to visit in Jerusalem, I discovered Archpriest Aleksandr Abraham Winogradsky Frenkel, who serves at Saint Nicholas Orthodox Church in the Old City. He shepherds a multiethnic, multilingual parish, where the services are in Hebrew on Saturdays. Here is the Trisagion in Hebrew:
A few Orthodox Christian Mission Center bulletins contain an article on Fr. Aleksandr’s work:
Spring 2005: pages 24 and 25 (pdf page 13)
Fall 2007: pages 8 and 9 (pdf page 5)
The number of Russian immigrants continues to rise in Israel, and many of the immigrants have a connection to the Russian Church. They immigrate as Jews under the Law of Return, but many are converts to the Church or have relatives in the Church. This growing community, with priests like Fr. Aleksandr, may develop into the roots of a future Hebrew Orthodox Christian culture.