That All May Be Saved

Touchstone | David Mills | April, 2008

Several issues, like the reform of Social Security, have been called “the third rail of American politics,” because touching one of them can kill a politician’s career. The evangelization of the Jews is the third rail of interfaith relations, for obvious reasons, many of which are the fault of Christians. It can kill a promising dialogue and expose any Christian who proposes it to scorn and contempt.

The most recent controversy on the matter came with Pope Benedict’s retention in the Tridentine Mass of a revised version of a prayer “For the conversion of the Jews,” said on Good Friday.

The old version read: “Let us pray also for the Jews, that the Lord our God may take the veil from their hearts and that they also may acknowledge our Lord Jesus Christ. Let us pray: Almighty and everlasting God, You do not refuse Your mercy even to the Jews; hear the prayers which we offer for the blindness of that people so that they may acknowledge the light of Your truth, which is Christ, and be delivered from their darkness.”

The new version reads: “Let us also pray for the Jews: that God our Lord might enlighten their hearts, so that they might know Jesus Christ as the Savior of all mankind: Almighty and eternal God, whose desire it is that all men might be saved and come to the knowledge of truth, grant in your mercy that as the fullness of mankind enters into your Church, all Israel may be saved, through Christ our Lord. Amen.”

A Troubling Prayer
The revision omits the references to “blindness” and “the veil” (the latter taken from St. Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians), but retains the hope that the Jews will come to know the Lord. And so, not surprisingly, Jewish leaders rejected even this mitigated version.

“We are deeply troubled and disappointed that the framework and intention to petition God for Jews to accept Jesus as Lord was kept intact,” declared Abraham Foxman, the director of the Anti-Defamation League. The revised prayer kept “the most troubling aspect for Jews, namely the desire to end the distinctive Jewish way of life.” He clearly expected, though he did not say so outright, the church to drop the prayer entirely.

He had responded last year to the news that the pope was granting wider permission to use the Tridentine rite, with the older version of the prayer, by declaring that the action “would now permit Catholics to utter such hurtful and insulting words by praying for Jews to be converted. This is a theological setback in the religious life of Catholics and a body blow to Catholic-Jewish relations. It is the wrong decision at the wrong time. It appears the Vatican has chosen to satisfy a right-wing faction in the Church that rejects change and reconciliation.”

At its international meeting in mid-February, the Rabbinical Assembly, an international group representing the world’s Conservative rabbis, declared that it was “dismayed and deeply disturbed” that Benedict had kept the prayer and that they would “seek clarification from the Vatican of the meaning and status of the new text for the Latin Mass which will be heard in Catholic Churches on Good Friday.” This has to be read, I think, as a more polite and tactful request than Foxman’s that the prayer not be prayed.

. . . more

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13 thoughts on “That All May Be Saved

  1. I thought the Orthodox belief was that the Jew was not automatically outside the realm of salvation. Besides, in comparison to the relatively indulgent lives of most American Christians, the Orthodox Jew lives a life of austerity and dedicated holiness.
    Okay, so they pray to “God” and not “Jesus”. I’m not convinced Jesus is going to mind:

    “Israeli ultra-Orthodox rabbis have long banned their followers from using the Internet, watching television, and going to the movies because such activities could expose them to ideas that contradict their religious teachings and strictly observant Jewish lifestyle.”

    http://www.science-spirit.org/article_detail.php?article_id=691

  2. James, We Orthodox pray that everyone should come to know the whole Truth and live in fullness of faith. You’re seeing a negative when there’s nothing there. Speaks more of your own inner issues than this story.

  3. The recent practice of taking offense whenever possible — and then looking to the nanny state for relief from the offense — is destructive. It may serve some people politically in the short term. In the long term, it erodes civil liberty for everyone.

    I appreciate the traditional freedom of expression — including freedom of religion — that we enjoy in the US. According to that tradition, you may hold whatever opinion you wish. I get to do the same. Furthermore, we each get to have, and express, our own thoughts about the other’s opinion. (Well-established legal prohibition of fraud, libel, threats of, and incitement to violence provide common-sense balance. Not many people have trouble understanding where the traditional dividing line is.)

    So if someone believes my faith is incorrect, and wishes to pray that I will be converted, by all means do so. Thank you for your concern. I will return the favor, as it is my civil right to do.

    Freedom is fragile. The best way to preserve it is to exercise it.

  4. JamesK,

    “No man comes to the Father except by me.”

    “I and the Father are one.”

    The list goes on, but the Bible contradicts your egalitarianism. If you reject the Son, Jesus, you reject the Father and salvation.

  5. Michael writes:

    The list goes on, but the Bible contradicts your egalitarianism. If you reject the Son, Jesus, you reject the Father and salvation.

    True, but this statement can’t be reduced to a verbal proposition alone. If Christ is the Truth, then anyone who searches for truth finds Christ even if they don’t know His name. (This is one reason why the Gospel is so powerful as the final revelation, and why it is heard only by those who have “ears to hear”, that is, a deep interior orientation towards that which is good and true and light.)

    This is entirely in keeping with Orthodox teaching, which affirms the good wherever it is found. Think of the the pre-Christian Aleuts for example that were prepared (by angels?) to hear the preaching of St. Innocent, or even the affirmation by the Fathers, that the pre-Socratics and their discovery of a monotheistic principle (one truth as opposed to the polytheistic confusions — a multiplicity of “truths”) intuited the existence of Truth.

  6. Note 5: Thanks for the post. It confirms my hunch that the Orthodox position was a bit more nuanced than the article (and Michael) implied. This is not to say that the Orthodox aren’t entitled to believe theirs is the final (or ultimate) revelation, but it’s clear that it is not Orthodox to insist that all who have not yet accepted that revelation in its totality are necessarily “lost”.

    Some Orthodox theologians have also admitted the possibility of the opportunity for a deeper (or even initial) conversion after death (analogous to the Catholic state of purgation).

  7. Fr. Hans, I absolutely agree with you. That is how Jesus found me. It is true that we humans tend to construct idols of our theology rather than actually worshiping God in Spirit and in Truth.

    However, IMO, JamesK was saying that it really doesn’t matter if you reject Jesus Christ as long as you worship God (whomever you believe Him to be). That is simply not true.

    When the prayer of the Church and the teaching of the Church on the new Israel is used to disparage and persecute Jews or anyone else, that is a horrible violation of the Spirit of Truth and should never be. However, the bad use of good doctrine should be the issue, not the doctrine or the prayers the flow from that doctrine.

    The objection to the prayer for the conversion of the Jews seems to be founded upon the idea that the Church is asking the Jews to forgo their faith rather than asking God to fulfill their faith through the Savior whom God brought forth out of Israel.

    Is it not true that by rejecting Jesus Christ as Messiah, they are rejecting the Covenant and therefore the very faith they claim to hold? Is that not vastly different than someone who has never known the Covenant accepting the Truth to which they were led by the Holy Spirit when the reality is revealed to them?

  8. Michael writes:

    The objection to the prayer for the conversion of the Jews seems to be founded upon the idea that the Church is asking the Jews to forgo their faith rather than asking God to fulfill their faith through the Savior whom God brought forth out of Israel.

    Is it not true that by rejecting Jesus Christ as Messiah, they are rejecting the Covenant and therefore the very faith they claim to hold? Is that not vastly different than someone who has never known the Covenant accepting the Truth to which they were led by the Holy Spirit when the reality is revealed to them?

    More specifically the objection to prayers for the conversion of Jews is predicated on the idea that once one becomes a Christian, he ceases to be a Jew. This includes not only the Jewish faith, but also Jewish self-identity.

    As for the Covenant, the actual question is this: Does the rejection of Christ as Messiah abrogate the covenant with Abraham? I am not sure it does. When Christ returns in glory the expectation of a victorious Messiah is fulfilled, and the separation between Jew and Christian collapses in Christ. I just read a brief bio on Monachem Begin. In his later years he was asked what was the first question he would ask God when he met Him. Begin responded, “Did you come once before?”

  9. The main problem regarding this issue stems from the utterly unfortunate state of the long dead “orthodox” church in understanding the Gospel which God reveals to his saints. Some have adhered to some hinduistic mystical union to be salvation, some have thought it to be good works in multitude, thus qualifing orthodox jews or for that fact any utterly moral person according to the human standard as qualifing for salvation….for if salvation can be attained by the law, Christ died in vain.

    I was raised in the syrian orthodox church, and similar to all orthodox & catholics, they have heavily grossed themselves in kinds of man made idolatry and blinded themselves from the light of the Gospel.

    Though the Gospel is simple, and a stumbling block to the Jews and foolishness to the so called learn elite, it’s penetrating effects of quickening the soul occurs by the Spirit within Gods elect.

    All mankind is subject to the eternal damnation, and only those that hope in the eternal mercy of God and clothed with the spirit of Christ which quickens the soul has any part in the kingdom of God.

  10. Unitedinhim writes:

    All mankind is subject to the eternal damnation, and only those that hope in the eternal mercy of God and clothed with the spirit of Christ which quickens the soul has any part in the kingdom of God.

    These ideas are too awash in juridical notions of salvation and too steeped in a Calvinist notions of predestination.

    See: The River of Fire.

  11. Jacobse, that happens to be the doctrine of the holy scriptures, which Calvin most graciously expounded.

  12. unitedinHim writes:

    Jacobse, that happens to be the doctrine of the holy scriptures, which Calvin most graciously expounded.

    I’m not really interested in getting into another wrangle about Calvin’s ideas about predestination. Been there, done that. Look, if you want to believe that Calvin is the be all and end all of scriptural exegesis, or if you want to comprehend the scriptures through a Calvinistic conceptual grid, be my guest. Just be aware that when compared to the consensus — the tradition — Calvin’s predestinarian ideas are a novelty (influential certainly, but still a novelty).

  13. It confirms my hunch that the Orthodox position was a bit more nuanced than the article (and Michael) implied. This is not to say that the Orthodox aren’t entitled to believe theirs is the final (or ultimate) revelation, but it’s clear that it is not Orthodox to insist that all who have not yet accepted that revelation in its totality are necessarily “lost”.

    To clarify something apparently missed by several readers: the article appeared as an editorial in an ecumenical magazine, was written by a Catholic (me), and approved by Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant editors. It was not intended to present solely Orthodox doctrine.

    And while I’m at it, I might add that I agree with JamesK’s second sentence, and that nothing in the editorial suggests otherwise. That is why I very carefully wrote “Whatever his view of other faiths, the Christian by definition believes that it is better to know, love, and follow Jesus in this world than not to, and that this is true for every single person on earth” (emphasis added).

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