Does the Catholic Church Teach Replacement Theology?
In another article, we have explained that replacement theology (or “supersessionism”) is the idea that God has rejected Israel as his chosen people because they did not accept Jesus as Messiah, and replaced them by the Church.
The Catholic Church today rejects replacement theology. In fact, the Church has never officially endorsed this idea. The key term here is officially, for it's undeniable that there has been a long, unofficial tradition of supersessionism in the Catholic Church that goes back to the Church Fathers. Even though supersessionism was never a magisterial, authoritative Catholic doctrine, the absence of an official Catholic teaching on God’s covenant with the Jewish people combined with, at times, widespread anti-Semitic attitudes, led to a pervasive acceptance of replacement theology among Christians throughout history. Tragically, these attitudes have caused much damage to Jewish-Christian relations over the years. At the Second Vatican Council (1962-65), the Church finally formulated an official teaching on the Jewish people that definitely rejected supersessionism.
In our previous article (What is Replacement Theology?), we list some Scriptures that are commonly quoted to support replacement theology, along with a rebuttal of these misguided interpretations. We also discuss the foundational problem with replacement theology, demonstrating how it is contrary to the message of the New Testament and of the Catholic Church.
The present article intends to supplement our previous article by providing a compendium of official magisterial and papal statements that reject supersessionism and affirm God’s enduring covenant with the Jewish people.
The Church […] cannot forget that she received the revelation of the Old Testament through the people with whom God in His inexpressible mercy concluded the Ancient Covenant. Nor can she forget that she draws sustenance from the root of that well-cultivated olive tree onto which have been grafted the wild shoots, the Gentiles. [...]
The Church keeps ever in mind the words of the Apostle about his kinsmen: "theirs is the sonship and the glory and the covenants and the law and the worship and the promises; theirs are the fathers and from them is the Christ according to the flesh" (Rom. 9:4-5), the Son of the Virgin Mary. She also recalls that the Apostles, the Church's main-stay and pillars, as well as most of the early disciples who proclaimed Christ's Gospel to the world, sprang from the Jewish people.
As Holy Scripture testifies, Jerusalem did not recognize the time of her visitation, nor did the Jews in large number, accept the Gospel; indeed not a few opposed its spreading. Nevertheless, God holds the Jews most dear for the sake of their Fathers; He does not repent of the gifts He makes or of the calls He issues-such is the witness of the Apostle. [...]
True, the Jewish authorities and those who followed their lead pressed for the death of Christ;(13) still, what happened in His passion cannot be charged against all the Jews, without distinction, then alive, nor against the Jews of today. Although the Church is the new people of God, the Jews should not be presented as rejected or accursed by God, as if this followed from the Holy Scriptures.
Chapter III: Teaching and Education
The history of Judaism did not end with the destruction of Jerusalem, but rather went on to develop a religious tradition. And, although we believe that the importance and meaning of that tradition were deeply affected by the coming of Christ, it is still nonetheless rich in religious values.
The problem of Jewish-Christian relations concerns the Church as such, since it is when "pondering her own mystery" that she encounters the mystery of Israel.
Notes on the correct way to present the Jews and Judaism in preaching and catechesis in the Roman Catholic Church (1985)
I. Religious Teaching and Judaism
I.2. Because of the unique relations that exist between Christianity and Judaism - "linked together at the very level of their identity" (John Paul II, 6th March, 1982) - relations "founded on the design of the God of the Covenant" (ibid.), the Jews and Judaism should not occupy an occasional and marginal place in catechesis: their presence there is essential and should be organically integrated.
I.3. This concern for Judaism in Catholic teaching has not merely a historical or archeological foundation. As the Holy Father said […] after he had again mentioned the "common patrimony" of the Church and Judaism as "considerable": "To assess it carefully in itself and with due awareness of the faith and religious life of the Jewish people as they are professed and practised still today, can greatly help us to understand better certain aspects of the life of the Church". It is a question then of pastoral concern for a still living reality closely related to the Church. The Holy Father has stated this permanent reality of the Jewish people in a remarkable theological formula, in his allocution to the Jewish community of West Germany at Mainz, on November 17th, 1980: "the people of God of the Old Covenant, which has never been revoked".
I.8. The question is not merely to uproot from among the faithful the remains of anti-Semitism still to be found here and there, but much rather to arouse in them, through educational work, an exact knowledge of the wholly unique "bond" (Nostra Aetate, 4) which joins us as a Church to the Jews and to Judaism.
VI. Judaism and Christianity in History
1. The history of Israel did not end in 70 A.D. (cf. Guidelines, II). It continued, especially in a numerous Diaspora which allowed Israel to carry to the whole world a witness - often heroic - of its fidelity to the one God and to "exalt him in the presence of all the living" (Tobit 13:4), while preserving the memory of the land of their forefathers at the hearts of their hope (Passover Seder).
Christians are invited to understand this religious attachment which finds its roots in Biblical tradition, without however making their own any particular religious interpretation of this relationship.
The existence of the State of Israel and its political options should be envisaged not in a perspective which is in itself religious, but in their reference to the common principles of international law.
The permanence of Israel (while so many ancient peoples have disappeared without trace) is a historic fact and a sign to be interpreted within God's design. We must in any case rid ourselves of the traditional idea of a people punished, preserved as a living argument for Christian apologetic. It remains a chosen people, "the pure olive on which were grafted the branches of the wild olive which are the gentiles" (John Paul II, 6th March, 1982, alluding to Rom 11:17-24). We must remember how much the balance of relations between Jews and Christians over two thousand years has been negative. We must remind ourselves how the permanence of Israel is accompanied by a continuous spiritual fecundity, in the rabbinical period, in the Middle Ages and in modern times, taking its start from a patrimony which we long shared, so much so that "the faith and religious life of the Jewish people as they are professed and practised still today, can greatly help us to understand better certain aspects of the life of the Church" (John Paul II, March 6th, 1982).
Pope John Paul II
Whoever meets Jesus Christ, meets Judaism. I would like to make these words mine, too. The faith of the Jesus Christ, the son of David and the son of Abraham actually contains what the bishops call [...] "the total heritage of Israel for the Church" , a living heritage which must be understood and preserved in its depth and richness by us Catholic Christians. [...]
The meeting between the people of God of the Old Covenant, never revoked by God, and that of the New Covenant, is at the same time a dialogue within our Church. (Address to Representatives of the West German Jewish Community, Mainz, Germany, Nov 17, 1980)
For the Jewish people who live in the State of Israel and who preserve in that land such precious testimonies to their history and their faith, we must ask for the desired security and the due tranquility that is the prerogative of every nation and condition of life and of progress for every society. (Apostolic Letter Redemptionis Anno, 1984)
“The Jewish religion is not ‘extrinsic’ to us, but in a certain way is ‘intrinsic’ to our own religion. With Judaism therefore we have a relationship which we do not have with any other religion. You are our dearly beloved brothers and, in a certain way, it could be said that you are our elder brothers.” (Discourse during Visit to the Rome Synagogue, 13 April 1986)
“It must be understood that Jews, who for 2,000 years were dispersed among the nations of the world, had decided to return to the land of their ancestors. This is their right.” (Interview with Parade Magazine, April 3, 1994)
3. The fact of divine election is at the origin of this small people […] This people was gathered together and led by God, the Creator of heaven and earth. Thus its existence is not a mere fact of nature or culture […] It is a supernatural fact. This people perseveres in spite of everything because they are the people of the Covenant, and despite human infidelities, the Lord is faithful to his Covenant. To ignore this primary fact is to embark on the way of a Marcionism against which the Church immediately and vigorously reacted, in the awareness of her vital link with the Old Testament, without which the New Testament itself would be emptied of its meaning. The Scriptures cannot be separated from the people and its history, which leads to Christ, the promised and awaited Messiah, the Son of God made man. (Address to Symposium on the Roots of Anti-Judaism, 31 October 1997)
“On the heights of Sinai this same God seals his love by making the covenant that he will never renounce. If the people obey his law, they will know freedom forever. The exodus and the covenant are not just events of the past; they are forever the destiny of all God's people!” (Homily on Mt. Sinai, February 26, 2000)
63 Israel is the priestly people of God, “called by the name of the Lord,” and “the first to hear the word of God,” the people of “elder brethren” in the faith of Abraham.
121 The Old Testament is an indispensable part of Sacred Scripture. Its books are divinely inspired and retain a permanent value, for the Old Covenant has never been revoked.
528 The Epiphany is the manifestation of Jesus as Messiah of Israel, Son of God and Savior of the world. […] The magi’s coming to Jerusalem in order to pay homage to the king of the Jews shows that they seek in Israel, in the messianic light of the star of David, the one who will be king of the nations. Their coming means that pagans can discover Jesus and worship him as Son of God and Savior of the world only by turning toward the Jews and receiving from them the messianic promise as contained in the Old Testament. The Epiphany shows that “the full number of the nations” now takes its “place in the family of the patriarchs,” and acquires Israelitica dignitas (are made “worthy of the heritage of Israel”).
597 The historical complexity of Jesus’ trial is apparent in the Gospel accounts. The personal sin of the participants (Judas, the Sanhedrin, Pilate) is known to God alone. Hence we cannot lay responsibility for the trial on the Jews in Jerusalem as a whole […] Still less can we extend responsibility to other Jews of different times and places […]
839 The relationship of the Church with the Jewish People . When she delves into her own mystery, the Church, the People of God in the New Covenant, discovers her link with the Jewish People, “the first to hear the Word of God.” The Jewish faith, unlike other non-Christian religions, is already a response to God’s revelation in the Old Covenant. To the Jews “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”; “for the gifts and the call of God are irrevocable.”
1096 Jewish liturgy and Christian liturgy . A better knowledge of the Jewish people’s faith and religious life as professed and lived even now can help our better understanding of certain aspects of Christian liturgy. […]
Pontifical Biblical Commission, The Jewish People and their Sacred Scriptures in the Christian Bible (2001)
I. The Sacred Scriptures of the Jewish People are a Fundamental Part of the Christian Bible
2. Although it gradually detached itself from Judaism, the Church could never forget its Jewish roots, something clearly attested in the New Testament; it even recognised a certain priority for Jews, for the Gospel is the “power of God for salvation to everyone who has faith, to the Jew first and also to the Greek” (Rm 1:16).
3. The New Testament writings were never presented as something entirely new. On the contrary, they attest their rootedness in the long religious experience of the people of Israel, an experience recorded in diverse forms in the sacred books which comprise the Jewish Scriptures. The New Testament recognises their divine authority.
II. B. 4. The Election of Israel a) In the Old Testament
33. [God] has chosen this people for himself, setting them apart for a special relationship with him and for a mission in the world. The idea of election is fundamental for an understanding of the Old Testament and indeed for the whole Bible.
II. B. 4. The Election of Israel b) In the New Testament
35. The expression “chosen people” is not found in the Gospels, but the conviction that Israel is God’s chosen people is taken for granted although expressed in other terms…
To the question of whether the election of Israel remains valid, Paul gives two different answers: the first says that the branches have been cut off because of their refusal to believe (Rom 11:17, 20), but “a remnant remains, chosen by grace” (11:5). It cannot, therefore, be said that God has rejected his people (11:1–2). […] The Jews do not cease to be called to live by faith in the intimacy of God “for the gifts and calling of God are irrevocable” (11:29).
The New Testament never says that Israel has been rejected. From the earliest times, the Church considered the Jews to be important witnesses to the divine economy of salvation. She understands her own existence as a participation in the election of Israel and in a vocation that belongs, in the first place, to Israel, despite the fact that only a small number of Israelites accepted it.
Pope Benedict XVI
Today I have the opportunity to repeat that the Catholic Church is irrevocably committed to the path chosen at the Second Vatican Council for a genuine and lasting reconciliation between Christians and Jews. (Greetings to the Chief Rabbis of Israel, May 12, 2009)
You also ask me what to say to our Jewish brothers about the promise God made to them: Has this been forgotten? And this - believe me - is a question that radically involves us as Christians because, with the help of God, starting from the Second Vatican Council, we have discovered that the Jewish people are still, for us, the holy root from which Jesus originated. I too, in the friendship I have cultivated in all of these long years with our Jewish brothers, in Argentina, many times while praying have asked God, especially when I remember the terrible experience of the Shoah. What I can say, with the Apostle Paul, is that God has never stopped believing in the alliance made with Israel and that, through the terrible trials of these past centuries, the Jews have kept their faith in God. And for this, we will never be grateful enough to them, as the Church, but also as humanity at large. Persevering in their faith in God and in the alliance, they remind everyone, even us as Christians that we are always awaiting, the return of the Lord and that therefore we must remain open to Him and never take refuge in what we have already achieved. (Article published in La Repubblica, September 11, 2013)