in response especially to Ariel Ben Ami's writing: Israel Past, Present and Future

Jews at the Wailing WallAriel Ben Ami's and Mark Kinzer's reactions to my study regarding the different ways of understanding Israel have been important and I have appreciated the richness of their contents, albeit correcting some opinions I had expressed.

Dialogue on such profoundly mysterious topics, rooted in God and in His Salvific Plan, is thus enriched with new insights and illuminations coming from on High, because God cooperates with his light to give us full knowledge on the mystery of Truth which envelops history and the entire cosmos. It is written indeed: "For with You is the fountain of life; In Your light we see light." (Psa 36:9).

Hence spurred from their observations, I return to what I had written so as to clarify my thought and add new insights I have had in the meantime.

Point I: On the distinctions and on the unity of the term Israel

I would like to first return on the many distinctions I made when speaking of Israel, something that has made Ariel uneasy, although he has deemed these distinctions helpful for a better comprehension and explanation of the ideological position of Catholics for Israel. Ariel says:

These distinctions help us to identify more precisely what we are talking about when discussing the complex topic of God's chosen people. At the same time, I could not help but feel a certain uneasy sensation of fragmentation in the many categories that he proposed: five ways of understanding Israel, three ways of perceiving the modern State, two erroneous ideological interpretations of Israel, and a marked separation between Judaism as a religious entity and Israel as a political entity. As Fr. Carlo himself acknowledges, beyond the indispensable distinctions necessary to facilitate our discussion, there is in the end only one Israel and indeed one people of God, intended to include - at least at the moment of the eschatological pleroma - both Israel and the Church. If the current divided state of the world makes these distinctions necessary, let us try nevertheless to discuss them while keeping in mind the unity of the whole, knowing that all these categories will one day be dissolved when God's people comes to the fullness of perfection.

Here I would like to stress how important it is to proceed with these distinctions in order to avoid the existing confusion about the term "Israel", for nowadays there are actually five "global" ways of understanding "only one Israel", wherein the five indicated elements converge. A Catholic's view on the "global Israel" is different from that of an orthodox Jew; also Orthodox and Messianic Jews have different views regarding "global Israel". To better understand the origin of these five different global visions, I find it useful to resort to the analysis of the different parts that bear the name Israel, to see where the diversity lies and how to, if possible, get rid of it, or, at least, keep it in mind during ecumenical dialogues.

This situation is similar to the one that has occurred in the Christianity of the Gentiles, where only one Christianity and only one Church are supposed to be, wherein the diverse parts of Christianity and the Church ought to merge in only one unity, but in reality there are several Churches and several "Christianities," each of them claiming to be the "global Christianity" and the "global Church". Therefore it is necessary to discuss the different ways of comprehending the Church and Christianity, beginning from their different parts; so we shall better understand why there are "various Christianities" and various Churches.  

This distinction thus helps us to better understand "what unites and what divides" the various global ways of understanding Israel, seeing which ways are closer and which are more distant with respect to each other. Failure to make such a distinction would lead to a clash between the five diverse globalities called "Israel", and it would be impossible to distinguish between their conflicting and non-conflicting aspects.

It is then natural that everyone, when it comes to their own global view about Israel, should narrow down into a unity the five elements that bear the name Israel and see these elements as parts of a whole which I call here "the global Israel".

Point II: On the definition of post-Christic Judaism as Anti-Messianic Judaism

Mark Kinzer finds it difficult to accept my definition of post-Christic Judaism as "anti-Messianic". He says:

I found the piece you sent fascinating -- like all that you write! I do, however, see matters somewhat differently. First, I do not look at the Judaism of the past two thousand years as "anti-messianic." As I argue in Postmissionary Messianic Judaism, the Christ encountered by the Jewish people of the past 19 centuries was so distorted by anti-Judaism that his character as Israel's Messiah was unrecognizable. Instead, I see the Judaism of the past 1900 years as a tradition filled with the wisdom and life of Messiah Yeshua, albeit in a hidden fashion (just as "Israel" remains in the midst of the church, albeit in a hidden fashion).

What Kinzer says made me reflect positively in the sense that I tried to step out of the Church's traditional fashion of regarding post-Christic Judaism as "anti-Messianic." And so I found another term: "Without the Messiah", which lies between the other two: "Against (anti) the Messiah" and "in favour of (pro) the Messiah." What is the difference between Judaism "without the Messiah" and that which is "against the Messiah"? This difference may be established starting from the fact that ever since God called Abraham, Israel has been naturally disposed to welcoming the Messiah in its spiritual personality, just like a woman is naturally disposed to receiving a baby conceived in her womb. Israel is thus naturally disposed in "favor" of the Messiah. When the day came for all Israel to welcome him (the coming of Christ in the flesh), Israel failed to do so, rejected him, and therefore remained "without the Messiah", who was instead welcomed by the Gentiles, who seemed unprepared to welcome him. But in God's Plan the time will come for Israel to receive the Messiah, before the return of Christ in glory. This shows that Israel always remains oriented towards welcoming the Messiah, not only when he shall come in glory, but also before this event. Its being "without the Messiah" is temporary and, although outwardly Israel appears to be "against the Messiah", remaining thus "without" him, this is men's doing, the work of unbelieving Jews, and not inherent to the nature of Israel as it is in the mind of God. Thus God, by keeping Israel in existence after the coming of Christ, does not do this in view of Jews who are "without Christ" or "against Christ," as they have been propagating themselves for twenty centuries, but in view of the "nature of Israel" which, although it rejects Christ, nevertheless is waiting to become "pregnant with Christ" – and God has announced that the day shall come when this pregnancy will come true.

This way of understanding post-Christic Judaism is different from saying that it is "anti-Messianic". This anti-Messianism exists, but it is not of Israel, but of the "world" and of the "powers hostile to the Messiah" in which the world expresses itself. Jesus Himself indicated who his true enemy is, the Anti-Christ par excellence, and he called it "the world", when He said: "If the world hates you, know that it hated me before you... whoever hates me, hates my Father also" (Jn 15:18, 23). This world is anti-Messianic by nature, just like the devil, who is the prince of this world. It is true that Israel too hated the Messiah, putting him on the cross, but this sin may be compared to Peter's betrayal, followed by repentance, while the hatred of the world towards the Messiah is comparable to Judas' betrayal, not followed by theological repentance but leading to the condemnation foretold by Jesus. Hence, while Israel will repent before the Messiah, as it happened with Peter, there is no  repentance for the world, but only its covert or overt war against the Messiah, which shall be resolved with the triumph of Christ and the condemnation of the world on the day of his return.

These realities of great theological depth are not far remote from history, and they provide us with a key to interpret it. In fact, over the centuries, although presenting itself as "against Christ", persisting in its refusal of the Messiah of Israel since the time of Jesus, post-Christic Judaism has experienced the hatred of the "world", just like the Church. Why this? Because, in spite of its "anti-Christianity", Israel has remained naturally oriented towards the Messiah, and this could not be tolerated by the powers hostile to Christ present in the world. That is why the Jews and the Christians became the target of Hitler's deicide wrath, a macroscopic expression of today's hatred of the world against the Messiah. To express it with biblical language drawing on the prophecy of Genesis 3:15, the human offspring coming from God and which shall be victorious against the enemy of God, operating in history, is made up of the "Woman" (Israel) and its offspring (the Messiah and the Christians), against whom the wrath of Satan breaks out. All this is presently made manifest politically in the hatred of the "world" against the Woman and her offspring. A political symbolism of this hatred can be seen in the hatred of the Arab Muslim world against Israel and the Western World, where Christianity is the main professed religion. Moreover, the Muslim Arabs' particular target in the West are the United States. In this case, Israel and the United States, struck by the fanatical hatred of the Muslims, are just a symbol of what is impressed in their spiritual unconscious, the presence of God's offspring in a world hostile to God. And this in spite of the many sins that characterize Israel, the United States and the Western World.  This is a points deserving of further analysis, which I hope to do in the future.

In this view, the mutual hatred that has been lasting for centuries between Judaism "without the Messiah" (Post-Christic Judaism) and the Christianity of the Gentiles is destined to increasingly diminish until it completely disappears.  It will make way for a great reconciliation, fruit of the work of the Messiah who is the Prince of Peace and unites in himself Jews and Gentiles in one Spirit.  By contrast, the hatred of the world and the tribulations against the Messiah and those who belong to him will be unrelenting to the end, but the words of the Lord Jesus remain firm: "In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world." (Jn 16:33).  

Point III: Inadequate separation between political Israel and religious Israel.

On this point both Kinzer and Ariel make the right critical comments. Kinzer writes:

Third, I don't think that the State of Israel is a secular state. It is a Jewish state -- and that means more than culture. (These days, the most influential elements within it are religious nationalists who populate the settlements.) Jewish culture is inseparable from Jewish religious tradition, just as it is inseparable from core genealogical descent. It is this complex nature of Jewish identity -- and thus of the identity of "Israel" -- that I think your short article is missing. Religion, genealogy, ethnicity, culture, politics -- for the Jewish people, and for the Torah itself, these elements are only separable through philosophical abstraction. In order to understand the true mystery of Israel, one needs to see how these various elements are inextricably bound together. The recent Paris Statement developed by the Helsinki Consultation makes the point well: "The identity of the Jewish People [i.e., Israel] is complex, consisting of historical, familial, ethnic, cultural and spiritual components that are all essential and inseparable. The paradoxical nature of Jewish identity challenges us to avoid reductionist interpretation and to explore further the mystery of our people.

Moreover, Ariel writes:

More complex is the issue of the modern State of Israel. I would like to reconsider Fr. Carlo's claims that this nation "can no longer be considered 'the nation of God'" and that God has "separated the earthly, political, economic, and temporal existence of Israel from its existence as God's people, that is, from its strictly religious dimension. Let's begin with the second claim: Did God really separate Israel's temporal and religious dimensions? As we have seen, there was no such division in OT Israel. Moreover, the concept is just as foreign to post-Christic Judaism: for even though the Jews in their long dispersion were deprived of a sovereign nation and state, traditional Judaism never had a concept of complete separation between temporal/civil and religious life. Quite on the contrary, the very essence of halakha, the Jewish way of life, closely unites the two realms: every aspect of the life of the Jewish individual and even the local administration of the Jewish community is guided and regulated by the precepts of the Torah.

Ariel also underlines the fact that although the modern secular State of Israel is not part of the biblical tradition, Israel's possession of the Holy Land is indeed a part of God's plan for Israel,. Therefore a distinction must be made between "Israel as a nation," to whom was given the promise to live in the Holy Land, and "Israel as a State", which may have diverse modes of being towards which God has not pledged Himself. But this distinction must not be exceedingly accentuated because a nation living in a homeland must necessarily have a political regime, hence if God wills that "Israel as a nation" have a homeland, He must at the same time will that a State of Israel exist. This is the opinion of Ariel.  

My reply is this: on the whole I accept these observations, but I would like to integrate them into my discourse as follows. The issue comprises three topics:

  1. The union between the Jewish religious tradition and the reality of the political state of Israel. The term "Israel" embraces both these aspects.
  2. The union and distinction between "Israel as a Nation" and "Israel as a State"
  3. The Holy Land as the land that God has promised to Israel forever.

With regard to the first topic I agree with Kinzer and Ariel, as long as some sort of hierarchy is established with regard to the realities that make up Israel as a whole. It seems to me that the covenant of God with Israel is Israel's highest and most proper value, that which has always distinguished it from the other peoples of the earth, and still continues to be its main trait. This value does not seem to be preeminent in the modern State of Israel, although it serves as a background to the culture and essence of the Jewish nation. I nevertheless agree that Israel, not only as a Nation but also as a State, is part of the mystery of God's covenant with Israel, never nullified, even though a considerable part of Israel has rejected the Messiah.

With regard to the second topic, while an indisputable sacrality is present in Israel as a Nation, that does not hold true for Israel as a State. The distinction between Israel as a Nation and Israel as a State, which Ariel and I have made, is fundamental. In the covenant with God, "Israel as a State" ranks, in terms of values, "after" "Israel as a Nation". One can infer this from the fact that although Israel may have a lay State like the one it now has, Israel as Nation does not lose its status as a nation in alliance with God.

We can draw a comparison with the Catholic Church, considered as the "Vatican" which has a territory under the Pope's political jurisdiction, with no interference from other States, and the Catholic Church as Nation of believers in Christ from all peoples. The Vatican State makes it possible for the Holy See, the spiritual and pastoral governing body of the Catholic Church, to be independent from the politics of Italy and so pursue in political liberty its programs for the Catholic Church. The comparison is drawn for the similarity it shows between Israel as a religious Nation and Israel as a State. Certainly, unlike the Holy See with respect to Catholics worldwide, the State of Israel does not govern Israel as a religious Nation, but governs its civic and economic life. Yet the sovereign State of Israel, albeit lay and only interested in political and earthly matters, is a guarantee for the subsistence of Israel as a religious Nation.

With regard to the third topic, reflection must be made on the Holy Land's character as "sign," still inhabited by Israel in fulfillment of the promises of the God of the Old Testament – and not only of the Old Testament, but also of the New Testament, because both the dispersion of Israel among the nations and the return of Israel to the Holy Land are part of the prophecies of Jesus and of the Apostles.

In my opinion, the character of "sign" of these realities is part of God's "particular" revelation to the world through Israel. We may use the adjective "carnal" to describe this particularity. While in the Church of the Gentiles God's revelation is of a "spiritual" type, God reveals Himself to the world through Israel in a "carnal" way. What does this mean? It means that God, by revealing Himself to the world through Israel, manifests Himself not only through "spiritual" manifestations such as in a Eucharistic celebration or Baptism, wherein what is earthly is reduced to a minimal "symbol" of an underlying spiritual reality, but through macroscopic realities which are part of the carnal and temporal life of men on earth, as in the case of the occupation of a territory as one's own homeland.

From the outset, in the eyes of the inhabitants of the Holy Land at the time of Joshua, the occupation of that land on the part of Joshua and the destruction of their power over it was a great "carnal" sign of the kingship of the God of Israel over all the peoples of the world. Such a meaning remains intact even 20 centuries after Christ, if the return of the Jews to the Holy Land as their homeland is read in light of the Scriptures. It is a "political sign," hence "carnal," of the God of Israel as King of the nations of the earth, a biblical truth that has consequences and manifestations well beyond the event of Israel taking possession of its land after many centuries of exile. Today's humanity, so secularized and with no biblical faith, was not in the least prepared for this "carnal" revelation of God, because the dogmatic truth of God's supreme authority and reign over all nations and all places of the earth is greatly disregarded by the current secularized culture of the nations.  It is opposed by French Illuminism, from which derive the current Western States of lay-democratic and a-religious regimes that do not recognize in the least one of the greatest titles of the God of Israel and of the Church, that of being "King of kings" and "Lord of lords", also a title of the Messiah of God, Jesus Christ, according to the vision of John in the Apocalypse (Ap 20,16). By contrast, the Church celebrates every year a liturgical feast whereby Jesus the Messiah is exalted as "universal King," in the midst of a  total indifference on the part of the States and leaders of nations towards this title of Jesus.

History will tell what "particular" revelation of God is connected with the return of Israel to the Holy Land, and what part of God's Plan for the nations this mystery fulfills. We are unable to fully comprehend this because we are at the very beginning of an action of God with regard to all of Israel in the totality of its dimensions. However we know that the Israel of the end times will increasingly take on the character of John the Baptist, announcing the last coming of Christ in glory and acting as a new center of illumination for the nations of the earth, because from Israel will shine forth in a new and unprecedented way the presence of the Messiah of God, rejected by the nations of the earth.

Point IV: On Christian Zionism and on the benedictions "from" Israel and "for" Israel

Let's discuss one of the most controversial points of the issue of Israel, dealt with by Ariel. In my writing I underline how the Christian Zionism of these last times has encroached on a sort of "divine ideology" with regard to Israel or "idolatry of Israel," since in Christian Zionism Israel replaces the Messiah as center of the benedictions that God pours out on the nations starting from Israel. Ariel holds that this my way of judging Christian Zionism is exaggerated and that among the evangelicals he knows there are very few those that support it. Ariel says:

However, I wonder whether his description of the "divine ideology" is really accurate, or whether it is not perhaps a bit exaggerated - and almost a caricature of Christian Zionism... True, there are some fundamentalist groups that tend to overly idealize Israel, but I must say that in my many years of contact with evangelical supporters of Israel, I do not recall having met - not even once! - a Christian Zionist who viewed Israel's rejection of the Messiah as "a small venial sin, which does no great harm to Israel." Perhaps I am wrong, but it seems to me, rather, that the overwhelming majority of Christian friends of Israel (or at least those who have not lost their faith by embracing dual-covenant theology) understand well the gravity of Israel's rejection of Messiah.

Here I find it necessary to better expound my idea, which I had presented too succinctly.

First of all, to better comprehend this issue, a distinction must be made between "theological judgment" and "political judgment". So, for those who support Israel's right to possess the Holy Land, "theological judgments" are of fundamental importance, while "political judgments" are less important. The adversaries of Israel, instead, pay no attention at all to "theological judgments", considering them either without any value of truth whatsoever, albeit being in Scripture, or erroneously interpreted and with no importance when it comes to judging exclusively political events that ought to be judged only with "political judgments".

What are those "theological judgments"? They are judgments by which one attempts to comprehend God's Plan in human events. So by saying that such and such tsunami has been God's chastisement for the sins of men, we are expressing a "theological judgment" on the said event, which ordinarily is judged only with "seismic judgments". To say that the restitution of the Holy Land to Israel as its homeland is something willed by God, in fulfillment of biblical prophecies that speak of this return, is to express a "theological judgment" on this event. "Political judgment", instead, would be to consider this fact only based on the human aspects that have caused it to happen.

Now regarding Christian Zionism, of which Ariel is a balanced exponent, "theological judgments" on this event abound. Ariel himself has made a long study collecting all biblical oracles which speak of the irrevocable promise God has made to Israel to give it the Holy Land as a sign of divine benediction. I personally agree with Ariel, since I believe Scripture is the Word of God and I really believe that what God says is fulfilled in history. These "theological judgments" are totally absent in those who speak against Christian Zionism, and here we find ourselves faced with a frightening ignorance with regard to Scripture as a book of historical prophecies announcing God's judgments in the history of peoples and individuals.

We must understand why those against the possession of the Holy Land reject "theological judgments" on this issue. I think that one of the reasons is this: since Israel has managed to take and keep possession of the Holy Land through numerous injustices and abuses against the Palestinians, it is impossible – they say – that behind this possession could be the God of justice and of peace among all the peoples of the world, for this would mean that God sides with the unjust.

This is a serious reason that cannot be overlooked by those in favor of Israel's divine right to possess the Holy Land. How can we respond to this objection?

The answer is simple. The way God fulfils his plans in history does not exempt men from their ethical responsibilities, when through their good or bad actions these plans are fulfilled. Hence we Christians are convinced that Jesus' death on the cross was God's plan; but this does not exempt Pontius Pilate and the Jews who asked his crucifixion from their ethical responsibility for the death of Jesus. In the same way the exile of Israel to Babylon at the time of the prophet Jeremiah was the will of God, but historically this was fulfilled through the dictatorial and extremely violent intervention of Babylon, of which Babylon was held responsible before God. Moreover, there are other instances in Scripture more difficult to explain away according to the norms of modern international justice. Such is for example the conquest of the Holy Land by Joshua the first time, which was realized through violence and apparently through an unjust action directly perpetrated by God against the people living there. But we must bear in mind that here and in similar cases God acts on earth as sovereign and judge of all the nations of the earth, and his intervention against the peoples of the Holy Land of that time was His direct judgment against their idolatry, just as God sent Israel into exile for the same reasons, for its persistent idolatry which was prohibited.

This answer puts together the Plan of God and human politics, with all its good and bad qualities. Hence, in my opinion, "theological judgments" and "political judgments" both tell the truth: according to "theological judgments", Christian Zionists, who deem it to be God's will that Israel occupy the Holy Land, are right, because this fulfills Scripture; "political judgments" may prove right those who see the behavior of Israel as an injustice because of the way Israel has conquered and keeps the Holy Land. However, whether politically correct or incorrect, Israel's presence in the Holy Land fulfills God's Plan for Israel at present and this judgment is indisputable based on a "theological judgment", just as a political judgment on the State of Israel may reveal Israel has really wrought wrongs against the Palestinians.

I think Ariel is of my same opinion, when making a distinction between Israel as a Nation and Israel as a State. "Theological judgments" regarding the possession of the Holy Land pertain to Israel as a Nation, while "political judgments" pertain to Israel as a State, and there are no specific prophecies about the latter, although God, by willing that Israel as a Nation live in the Holy Land, also wills that there be a State, but as to the type of State God does not pronounce himself in the Sacred Scriptures.

Now I would like to point out that the passionate attitude of Christian Zionism in favor of Israel and against the Arab world arises mostly from the fact that public world opinion condemns especially the "bad actions" of Israel against the Palestinians or against the neighboring States (especially Iraq and Lebanon), and overlooks the Arab world's hatred against Israel and its desire to completely destroy Israel and wipe it away from the Holy Land. In my opinion, there is some truth in this attitude of Christian Zionism, because a peaceful solution to the conflict is undermined by the hatred against Israel and against the United States which seems to be part of the Muslim Arabs' DNA. This hatred has become manifest in the brutal forms of Islamic terrorism, thwarting every effort of goodwill on the part of the Israeli government to peacefully deal with the Palestinians. In a word, the Palestinian sheep, torn to pieces by the Israeli wolves, are not after all so much "sheep", but at times show themselves more ferocious than the Israeli wolves. Hence the Israeli-Palestinian conflict reveals itself to be a conflict between two packs of wolves, each trying to defeat the other through greater brutality. If this is the situation, we can see how problematic are "political judgments" in this field, because at times one party is right, and at times the other one. The extremist Christian Zionists exaggerate when they hold that Israel is always right and the Muslim Arabs are always wrong in virtue of God's benediction which is only for Israel and not for the Arabs. So "theological judgments" are used in support of political events which are instead to be judged only with "political judgments", not with "theological judgments".

Therefore the "theological judgments" whereby Christian Zionism supports Israeli's occupation of the Holy Land cannot replace the "political judgments" regarding the rectitude of Israel's behavior towards the Palestinians. Confusion between these two types of judgments distorts both the truth of the "theological judgments", which in this case exist and are true, and the truth of "political judgments" which must be made in this case in order to underline political responsibilities. Theological judgments about Israel in the Holy Land cannot justify every political action of the State of Israel, they are "political acts" that can be more or less just not only in the eyes of men, but also before God.

Returning to the extreme Christian Zionism, Ariel seems to minimize it, while in reality it is not so, because this extremist Christian Zionism has had a macroscopic manifestation in the last two decades around the evangelical pastor John Hagee and the CUFI (Christians United for Israel) movement, which has succeeded in involving millions upon millions of US evangelicals in favor of Israel and against the Arab world, strongly influencing US politics in favor of Israel. I have read Hagee's book entitled: Final Dawn over Jerusalem where he presents his fundamental ideas, and while I share the "theological judgment" about Israel in the Holy Land as fulfillment of the biblical promises, I find Hagee's interpretation with regard to those who bless Israel and those who curse it completely wrong, not in line with the biblical truth. In Hagee's position occurs exactly what I said in my previous writing, namely that in this extreme Christian Zionism, Israel and Jerusalem replace the Messiah as the instrument of God's benedictions, which would be tantamount to us Catholics putting Our Lady at the place of Jesus Christ as channel of God's salvific benedictions.

Ariel's position, which makes a distinction and puts together two kinds of benedictions through Israel, a "lesser" one coming from Israel and Jerusalem, and a "greater" one coming from the Messiah, seems more balanced and truthful. It is similar to the case of God's benedictions coming to us Catholics not only through the worship paid to Jesus Christ, but also from the veneration paid to Our Lady and to the Saints. Both cults are channels of divine benedictions, although the benediction through the veneration of the Saints is under the Lordship of Christ and directed towards the blessing coming from the Messiah through his direct and primary worship.

Hagee, however, highlights only the blessing coming to the nations when they bless Israel and Jerusalem, and makes no mention at all of the benedictions or maledictions coming to men, whether Gentiles or Jews, because of their acceptance or rejection of the Messiah. The stumbling block God has put in the world is no longer Jesus but Israel itself, with no relation to the Messiah. Even though Hagee as a good evangelical dotes on Jesus Christ and knows well that salvation comes through Him, he does not say a single word on the malediction the Jews have called upon themselves as a nation, not so much because they have killed the Messiah (this was the action of only a few individuals), but because Israel as a nation has not accepted Him. Such an attitude is tantamount to erasing from the Sacred Scriptures pages upon pages dedicated to the tragedy of the rejection of the Messiah on the part of Israel and its consequences.  

Furthermore, Hagee makes two other serious theological errors.

First error: he falls into a modern form of political Messianism with respect to the Messiah, present also at the time of Jesus, because he considers the acceptance of Jesus as the Messiah only at the last moment of his glorious return in Jerusalem as King who defeats all the political enemies of Israel and ushers in the "millennium" on earth, during which Jerusalem will become the golden capital of a political and earthly kingdom of the Messiah lasting for one thousand years. These are dreams and illusions that will never come true, because Scripture's "theological judgments" are another thing altogether. In other words, Hagee completely bypasses Israel's acceptance of the suffering and crucified Messiah in whom there is salvation, that is the spiritual Messianism of Jesus, in the same way the pagan peoples had to accept Him in order to be saved. Scripture says that "all of Israel" will be saved before the glorious return of the Messiah as King of kings and universal judge, and the salvation of Israel entails the acceptance of the crucified Messiah, hence, of a spiritual Messianism which has no political implication whatsoever. Hagee makes no mention at all of this Messianism that Israel must accept in order to become the recipient of God's blessings.

 It is easy to think that Hagee embraces dual-covenant theology, according to which Israel need not be saved through the crucified Messiahship of Jesus because it is saved through the Law, and it is only waiting for the manifestation of the royal Messianism of Jesus in earthly and political form, and not in the eschatological form in the last day of history. I am not sure whether Hagee is a promoter of the two ways of salvation, one for Israel, the other one for the Gentiles, but the opinions he expresses make me think so.

Second error. Hagee's other macroscopic theological error is his very free interpretation of eschatological prophecy with regard to the last times, as focusing only on Israel and on the position of the peoples in favor of or against Israel. He falls into that form of "Hebrew particularism", typical of a certain Jewish mentality, according to which God cares only about Israel and hardly bothers about the nations of the earth. But the truth is that the God of Israel, in Christ, has likewise become the God of the nations, and the Good News of the Gospel speaks of a God who equally loves humanity, in whatever flesh it presents itself. He is the "our" Father, who is in Heaven, whom the Gentiles and the Jews invoke in the same way and feel loved by Him in the same way. This highly spiritual aura is utterly missing in the thought of Hagee, because at the center of his thought is not the Father and his salvific Plan for all the peoples, but Israel. Verily, if in the Plan of the Father some party has some privilege as compared to the others, that is only because from that privileged position the favor of God flows more abundantly onto the other parts and all become full with the fullness of God. This is the God of Scripture, not the God of Hagee. Paul contemplates the mystery of Israel in the Plan of God as a calling to be an instrument not of destruction but of benediction for all the peoples of the earth, yet this vocation is fulfilled only through an Israel closely united with the Messiah; otherwise it shall be fulfilled only through the Messiah, who sums up in Himself the purest vocation of all Israel. And if the Messiah becomes a stumbling block for the nations which, by rejecting Him, exclude themselves from salvation, He becomes such also for Israel, which the first time stumbled upon its Messiah, but at the end of times will abandon its centuries-long incredulity and rise upon the stone it had initially rejected.

I put an end here to my critique of Hagee and of the extreme form of Christian Zionism that is associated with him. If I have spoken very succinctly against Christian Zionism, that is because I had in mind positions like that of Hagee, which I have seen present in some discourses by adherents of this current. These positions spontaneously made me think this was an "idolatry of Israel" wherein Israel replaces the role of the Messiah as instrument of God's blessing for the nations, and Israel no longer needs to be blessed by God through the Messiah because, although it had rejected Him, it has not ceased to be an instrument of blessing. It is true that along with the theology of substitution a position opposite to that of Hagee has emerged, according to which Israel, because of its refusal of the Messiah, has no blessing whatsoever from God and is completely accursed. Today, on the basis of a more balanced vision, rejecting the theology of substitution, it can be affirmed that, although it has rejected the Messiah, Israel has preserved some of God's blessings in view of its final return to the Messiah. The position of Hagee and of extreme Christian Zionism plays up these benedictions upon Israel, even without the Messiah, so much so as to ignore the spiritual poverty of Israel without the Messiah, and they say to the nations that if they want to receive God's blessings, they must indiscriminately support Israel not only for its divine characteristics, but also for its political conquests, because they are willed by God. The ruin of the Western nations today is great and divine benedictions upon them are scarce, not because they do not bless Israel, but because of their Great Apostasy from the faith which has caused the nations of the Gentiles to become more wretched than Israel for having rejected the Messiah. Paul's warning to the Gentiles (Rm 11:16-24) to not boast about the fall of Israel has been disregarded. The nations have not persevered in faith, they have instead rejected and fought it, committing even horrors such as those of Communism, and have experienced what Jeremiah said to faithless Israel: "Your own wickedness will correct you, And your backslidings will rebuke you. Know therefore and see that it is an evil and bitter thing That you have forsaken the LORD your God, And the fear of Me is not in you," says the Lord GOD of hosts." (Jer 2:19).   

The extreme position of Hagee in favor of Israel is the counterbalance by 180° of the position that the Church and the theology of substitution had taken against Israel and, just as the theology of substitution is wrong, likewise wrong is "extreme Christian Zionism".

Therefore an intermediate position is needed which integrates true "theological judgments" about the true spiritual situation of Israel in itself and with respect to the nations, as well  as about its walk in history where the Plan of God is fulfilled.  

In 2006 the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, Michael Sabbah, and other representatives of the historical Christian churches in the Holy Land, issued a document condemning extreme Christian Zionism inspired from the ideas of John Hagee or of other origins. Unfortunately, as I see it, this document condemns the claim of those who attempt to find in Scripture the divine right of Israel to live in its land. I disagree with this position, as I have already explained, while I agree with the condemnation of the global vision of Hagee's Christian Zionism, which develops starting from this point.

In light of these considerations, I agree with Ariel who distinguishes between "minor" blessings for Israel and the "major" blessing for it, coming only through the Messiah, and the former directed towards the attainment of the latter. It is a balanced position, in keeping with the Scriptures. Yet I would advise Ariel to explicitly state in his program of "moderate Catholic Zionism", as I see it to be, that he distance himself from Hagee's extreme Christian Zionism and reject it explicitly, as well as rejecting other forms of Christian Zionism more or less similar to that of Hagee. This clarification would be useful as it would avoid confusion between his "Catholic Zionism" and fundamentalist Evangelical Zionism, and would be more easily received by Catholics, who, as Ariel himself says, tend to be allergic to every form of Christian Zionism.

Point V: On today' Messianic Judaism

Ariel, albeit greatly appreciating the fact that numerous Jews have come to believe in Jesus, joining today's Messianic Judaism and declaring themselves "Messianic Jews", considers this negatively regarding two aspects: firstly, because of the anti-Catholic spirit of these Communities under the influence of the evangelicals, something that makes them very resistant to turning towards the Catholic Church. So to their resistance caused by the past anti-Judaism of the Catholic Church is added the resistance of Evangelical anti-Catholicism. According to Ariel, the vast majority of the Jews joining the Communities of Messianic Jews are of evangelical origin, hence they harbor prejudices against the Catholic Church; secondly, because many Messianic Jews who come to believe in Jesus according to the tendencies of the evangelical world, become increasingly alien to the Judaism of their origins and cease to contribute to the permanence of the Jewish people in the Holy Land, with its own culture and religious traditions.

For these reasons Ariel would prefer that the Jews come to Jesus through the Hebrew-Catholic or Jewish-Catholic Movement:

For this reason, I find it very difficult to consider Messianic Judaism in its present form as the "ideal" or "fulfilled" Israel, and I would propose instead as coming much closer to this ideal the Hebrew-Catholic or Jewish-Catholic movement.

Besides, further on Ariel shows a certain perplexity with regard to the Catholics involved in ecumenical dialogue with the Messianic Jews for failing to clearly state the Catholic belief that the true Church of Jesus Christ subsists with all its elements in the Catholic Church. This is how he puts it:

Here, I have noticed that Catholics who are involved in ecumenical dialogue with the Messianic Jews occasionally have a tendency to dilute the unicity and unity of the church. Without denying the great work of God in the Messianic Jewish movement and in other Christian confessions, and aware that the movement of the Holy Spirit certainly transcends the visible boundaries of the Catholic Church, we must not forget that, as the Second Vatican Council has reminded us, the Church of Christ "subsists in the Catholic Church, governed by the successor of Peter and by the bishops in communion with him," through which "the fullness of the means of salvation can be obtained" (LG 8, UR3, CCC 816). Since "the ecclesial communities which have not preserved the valid Episcopate and the genuine and integral substance of the Eucharistic mystery, are not Churches in the proper sense," it follows that "the Christian faithful are therefore not permitted to imagine that the Church of Christ is nothing more than a collection - divided, yet in some way one - of Churches and ecclesial communities (Dominus Iesus 17).

What is my answer? It is threefold.

First. Actually in my previous writing I consider only the Messianic Jews as part of that Israel that has come to Jesus. And why? I have been influenced by the fact that I know much more about them than about the other Jews who believe in Jesus and are Catholics. For this reason, I speak of them as the ideal form of a return to Jesus which is happening today in the Jewish world. At the beginning of my interest for Israel, I and the Community of Jesus, of which I am spiritual assistant, organized meetings of dialogue with the Messianic Jews who showed a certain favor towards the Catholic Church rather than for the evangelical world. The most distinguished among them was Benjamin Berger, one of the fathers of the Messianic Movement in Israel. Then, in these past two years, I have had the privilege to closely know Mark Kinzer, his theology, and his person. I personally met him in Boston last February, and I came to understand that the Messianic Jewish current of which he is a well-recognized leader, called Hashivenu (Make us return), has the two traits whose absence in the Messianic Judaism of evangelical origin Ariel laments. In fact, Kinzer is radically oriented towards the full acceptance of the ancient and post-Christian Judaism on the part of current Messianic Judaism, and he has turned his eyes towards the Catholic Church, which Kinzer greatly esteems and admires. Since this movement led by Kinzer has a strong influence on the Messianic Jewish world, I think that a similar Messianic Judaism, in spite of all its ecclesiological shortcomings, could be presented as a model for the journey back to the Messiah on which the Spirit has begun to lead all of Israel. Therefore, positively receiving Ariel's input, I am willing to apply to other forms of Messianic Judaism, in addition to that of the Messianic Jews, that which I say with regard to this way of speaking about Israel.

Second. I reply to why at the present moment of the ecumenical dialogue with the Messianic Jews and with the Protestant world on the whole, I do not clearly state the truth about the Catholic Church being the complete form of the Church Jesus Christ has founded. The first reason is because the ecumenism I am carrying ahead is spiritual, not doctrinal. We don't intend to argue about where the full truth about Christ and the Church is found, but to unite the souls of the children of God and brothers of Jesus Christ into a spiritual communion, despite the many deficiencies of those who get together. Even among us Catholics, who profess the same doctrine of faith, there is much ignorance and many theological shortcomings, and yet the Eucharist and the love of Christ spur us to love each other, to esteem one another and to mutually accept each other with all our diversities of opinion and weaknesses in our faith (see Rom 14).

Besides, as for the Messianic Jews, because of the novelty of this phenomenon, at present we are called to discuss on strictly theological issues and, then, at a second moment we shall deal with ecclesiological issues. Many Catholics know nothing about the Messianic Jews, they don't know that the Messianic Jews believe in the Divinity of Jesus Christ and in the Most Holy Trinity, just as we Catholics do, hence the dialogue initially addresses these primary issues and not ecclesiological ones which, because of their nature, are secondary with respect to the essence of the salvific faith expressed in the two principal mysteries of faith: 1. God's Unity and Trinity; 2. Incarnation, Passion, Death and Resurrection of God's Messiah, Jesus Christ.

With regard to the theology of Kinzer, now that he has come up with an ecclesiological proposal which he calls "bilateral ecclesiology", we Catholics may dialogue with him about more specifically ecclesiological issues, after having ascertained that we have the same faith in the Messiah Jesus and in the Most Holy Trinity, and this even though we express this faith with different emphases.

Third. The phenomenon of Messianic Jews is increasingly becoming a community phenomenon, not of Jewish individuals who accept the Messiah and subsequently lose their Jewish identity, when they join some Christian Church. This reveals more clearly in them the beginning of a "conversion" to Jesus of all of Israel rather than in the phenomenon of the Catholic Jews.

Point VI: The "pro-Israel" program of Catholics for Israel

In the last part of his reply, Ariel goes at length to better express, based on my distinctions about the different ways of understanding Israel, his position as founder and representative of the "pro-Israel", Movement called "Catholics for Israel". What Ariel says is very important and ought to be seriously taken into consideration by the Catholic Church and Catholics in general. First of all, because he is a Catholic of clear Catholic faith, albeit being "pro-Israel" over some issues about which other Catholics are "against" Israel. It may be argued which of the positions is "more" Catholic than the other, but they are both expressed by Catholics and according to the good rule of charity among brothers in the same faith we should not hasten to excommunicate each other, but try to understand the good that is found in each position.

With regard to this point it is important to consider what St. Ignatius of Loyola says at the beginning of his spiritual Exercises. It is a text Ignatius calls "Presupposition" (in Latin "Presupponendum"). I would add: "Presupposition for a fraternal dialogue". Ignatius says:

In order that both he who is giving the Spiritual Exercises, and he who is receiving them, may more help and benefit themselves, let it be presupposed that every good Christian is to be more ready to save his neighbor's proposition than to condemn it. If he cannot save it, let him inquire how he means it; and if he means it badly, let him correct him with charity. If that is not enough, let him seek all the suitable means to bring him to mean it well, and save himself.

St. Ignatius prescribes this rule of behavior for relations established within a course of Spiritual Exercises between those delivering them and those attending the course, but this rule is also of great importance in the context of the ecumenical dialogue between Christians holding different opinions on issues of faith and practice. In light of this "Presupposion" Ariel's position deserves respect and attention and ought to be accepted because it is a positive attempt, in my opinion, from a Catholic prospective, to manifest that vicinity and love for Israel which the Church is promoting nowadays, without separating the temporal and spiritual aspects contained in the reality of Israel.

Besides this, the second reason for paying great attention to the position so clearly expressed by Ariel with regard to the objectives of Catholics for Israel is that we can identify in his movement a "charism" for the Catholic Church, of which Ariel and Catholics for Israel are bearers. This charism is a real attempt of synthesis, always perfectible, which I think Ariel tries to do positively 1. between the values of Judaism and the values of Christianity, 2.between a biblical vision of Israel, inherited from the past, and the present reality of Israel as a State engaged in many political problems 3. between his attention to the present Messianic Jewish Movement and his willingness to have this movement orientated towards the Catholic Church, in which alone can be found the fullness of messianic goods.

After carefully reading the program of Catholics for Israel, so widely presented in all of its aspects, I feel able to express this opinion. The presence of the Catholic spirit of fullness and balance animating it in all its parts, harmonizing well with each other, is evident. Wisely avoiding extremisms to which a program "in favor" of Israel may be exposed, Ariel focuses primarily on the religious aspect belonging to Israel heritage, shared by the Church of the Gentile believers in Jesus. When it comes to political issues, to more contingent and disputable issues, his position, albeit not shared by all Catholics, nevertheless cannot be accused of "Jewish fundamentalism", because it is moderated and reasonable. It highlights the fact that there truly exists a hatred on the part of the Arab world against Israel, which Israel directly experiences, a hatred overlooked by the Christians "against Israel" who do not fully consider how harmful it is for a political peace between Israel and the Palestinians. I thus seem to perceive in Ariel a charism of spiritual intelligence with regard to the relations between Judaism and Christianity at present. Of course there are certain things that ought to be improved and better understood, but that does not detract from the basic goodness that Ariel presents in the Catholics for Israel program.

What Ariel presents in this program is to be read by also bearing in mind what he has written in Elephants in the Room. Here the polemical undertone against the attitude of the Catholic Church in the Land of Israel is strongly present and it is difficult to distinguish between contingent positions, relating to concrete facts now happening, from the principles inspiring these positions. Nevertheless the positions Ariel expresses as a Catholic, albeit conflicting with other positions expressed by other Catholics, including bishops, are expressed with respect towards the Church, in freedom of expression since this is a not a dogmatic but a disputable matter, and he provides valid reasons that cannot be superficially rejected by saying that they are "conservative", "fundamentalist" and "pro-Israel", and hence "false and erroneous" in principle, because certain Catholics hasten to label as erroneous and outdated everything that has to do with biblical tradition, fundamentalism and pro-Israel positions. One really wonders where is the Catholic attitude that makes of a Catholic a true Catholic, in spite of the titles he bears. In this attitude the "Presupposition" of St Ignatius is totally put aside.

Lastly, I deem it important to say that Ariel's program accomplishes in many respects what the Second Vatican Council has written and prescribed so that the Catholic Church may return to be "pro-Israel" at least in its religious aspect and turn its gaze towards Israel, not only to lead to it the Messiah, but to learn from it and its tradition of religious piety and of its centuries-long observance of the Law given to Moses. In some of its positions Catholics for Israel is more daring than the Church's Magisterium, prophetically anticipating "theological judgments" about Israel on which the Church has not as yet pronounced itself, such as that one that sees the return of Israel to the Holy land as fulfillment of biblical prophecies. These more advanced positions are part of the prophecy proper to Catholics for Israel in the Catholic framework, of it must be taken every responsibility, without waiting for the acceptance of these positions by the broader Catholic public.

 I finish by saying that this my study on Israel, the Church and the world, spurred by the replies of Ariel to my works, has led me to a fuller understanding on the mystery of God, equivalent to the Plan of God carried out in the history, and so I deemed it a duty to share with my brothers in faith these my reflections. In praise and glory of the Most Holy Trinity, the only fount of every wisdom for all Christians.

Fr. Carlo Colonna was a Jesuit priest. He lived in Bari, where he was spiritual assistant of a charismatic Covenant Community, the Community of Jesus, engaged in ecumenical dialogue with the evangelical-Pentecostal, Anglican, Orthodox worlds, and with the Messianic Jews. He was a preacher, author of religious songs and writer of numerous books on spirituality and catechesis.

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