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Many Religions, One Covenant: Israel, the Church, and the World Paperback – September 1, 1999
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Since religious dialogue is a largely the theme of this book, it's a shame that the editors ignored the fact that most of these pieces were originally presented at different conferences as part of a dialogue with Jewish scholars. In describing the paper that became Chapter II, for example, Ratzinger/Benedict noted that "A. Chouraqui presented the concept of covenant in the Old Testament; my task was to present the New Testament counterpart" (47). And he described his writing in Chapter IV like this: "Rabbi Sztejnberg, who had suggested the topic, presented the Jewish perspective. This helps to account for the broad span of the topic, its concrete emphases, and the limitations of its execution" (89).
But since the book doesn't include the work of Chouraqui or Sztejnberg, it's kind of like we're listening to the sound of one hand clapping. Ratzinger/Benedict often is clearly responding to something that was said previously by someone else... but we don't know what that was. And that repeatedly left me feeling that what I was reading would have made a lot more sense if I could hear all sides of the discussion.
I get it that maybe the editors couldn't get permission to publish/translate the writings of the other speakers; but when that's the problem, then the solution is simple: don't publish anything at all.
Of great interest to me is the relationship between the covenants with Israel and Judah and the new Christian covenant. This is dealt with in the sections I, II and III of the book. Section I, "Israel, the Church, and the World" starts off by demonstrating in the story of the Magi that the world has always looked to Israel and Judah for guidance in some degree. It goes on to explain why Jews should not be collectively blamed for Christ's death and how Christ and his contemporaries who were Rabbi's and Jewish officials didn't really have any argument about the Law, the Torah, but rather primarily the argument was about his proclaiming his divine identity.
Section II deals with the Christian belief of the uniqueness and fulfilling nature of the "New Covenant" as compared to the old covenants. He goes into depth looking at the Eucharistic institution accounts, especially those of Mark and Matthew, and comparing these to the covenant institution at Mount Sinai.
The third section is my favorite where he deals with the "New Manna", the Holy Eucharist. In the institution of the Holy Eucharist we find the only mention Christ makes of the word "covenant", so it is proper that this be included in the book. It was originally a homily; I wished it could have been longer or supplemented by other material.
The fourth section is where the former Cardinal is going to lose some people because of some very technical and scholarly language. He discusses the history of ecumenism and affirms the desire to see all Christians re-unified. He discusses the problems with Jewish-Christian dialogue. His concluding point is profound, he states "Let me speak plainly: Anyone who expects the dialogue between religions to result in their unification is bound for disappointment." Anyone offended by this might be tempted to say "Speak for yourself!" and I think he is; primarily he is speaking of the Roman Catholic Church for which he is a representative.
Because this book consists of an assemblage of two lectures, an essay and a homily it is not as cohesive a work as "God Is Near Us", "Spirit of the Liturgy" or one of my favorites, "The Meaning of Christian Brotherhood." One of those might be a better one to start off with if you are just beginning to read works written by the new pope. (In fact, "Spirit of the Liturgy" was recommended as a good first book in a recent lecture given by Dr. Hahn.)
The third piece in this collection is simply a homily that Ratzinger gave one Sunday on the subject of God's covenantial relations with us. The fourth piece deals more with ecumenism in general, and only peripherally in relation to Judaism.
I don't speak German, so I can't be sure, but I strongly suspect that the title of this book is mistranslated. The German title is "Die Vielfalt der Religionen und der Eine Bund." If this were translated as "The variety of religions and the one covenant," this certainly would better reflect the content of the book. With the current title one is inclined to suspect the author of a mealy-mouthed relativism; this is decidedly not the case. The title seems to come from a phrase in the fourth lecture, but in context the author is presenting a case that the headship of Peter (i.e. the Pope) is the proper expression of the one new and everlasting covenant of Christ's body and blood. This is seemingly the opposite of what the title implies.
I find it useful to contrast this author with the works of the previous Pope. John Paul II shows a propensity to break a question down into every possible category, and then fully analyze each category. Perhaps it is the limitation of the form in this book, but Ratzinger here instead will explain the limited scope of the particular question he wants to answer, and then find one or two small germs of truth that advance the discussion without fully answering it. The result is touching and very affecting. His analysis in the first section on what does it mean when Christ says he is the fulfillment of the law is striking: Jesus is speaking of his own death as the fulfillment of the ritual sacrifices of the law. Ratzinger's treatment of new-age style "ecumenism" as offsive to human dignity cuts right to the heart.
This book is an easy read for an educated layman. It won't give you in itself a full understanding of the relationship between Catholicism and Judaism, but it will lay out some of the stones along the path in beautiful detail.