Montag, 10. August 2020

Walter Kasper: Juden und Christen - das eine Volk Gottes

Juden und Christen – das eine Volk Gottes

Walter Kardinal Kasper:
Juden und Christen –
das eine Volk Gottes.

Freiburg u.a.: Herder 2020, 160 pp.

ISBN: 978-3-451-39619-9

Prof. Dr. Leonard Swidler,
Temple University Philadelphia, USA 

This is an important book. But first some pertinent – and perhaps some may also think, “impertinent” – background information. Reviewing this “must read” contribution to Jewish-Christian relations by Cardinal Professor Walter Kasper brings me back to when I was fortunate enough to be a fellow Professor with three of the most influential Catholic theologians of the 20th-21st centuries – when I was Guest Professor of the Pontifical Catholic Theological Faculty of the University of Tübingen, Germany, in the early 1970s. Those hyper-influential Catholic theologians are: Josef Ratzinger (a.k.a. Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI), Professor Hans Küng, and Cardinal Walter Kasper. I beg your, the reader’s, permission to say a word about my contact with each of them.

I became a close personal friend of Hans Küng already in 1959 when I was finishing my Licentiate in Sacred Theology (S.T.L.) degree in Catholic Theology at Tübingen (perhaps the first Catholic layperson to receive a degree in Catholic theology – ever!), and Hans was the successor there to my “Doktor Vater,” Professor Heinrich Fries (who had just moved to the University of Munich). In those early years, Walter Kasper was an Assistant to Hans, and subsequently became Professor there. During Vatican Council II, Hans was hired at as the successor to Professor Fries. A short few years later, Hans was the Dean of the Catholic Theology Faculty, and hired Josef Ratzinger, with whom he earlier had been a fellow Assistent in the Catholic Theology faculty of the University of Münster, and also a colleague at Vatican Council II. Thus, the Catholic Theology Faculty of the University of Tübingen housed at the same time three theological world-shapers – and I was privileged to know them all.

Walter Kasper was made Cardinal (2001) and the Head of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity for the years 2001-2010. In many ways, this book is the fruit of his experience then, as well as his continued very active involvement in Jewish-Christian matters. The reader is the beneficiary of his manifold decades working in, and helping to shape, the ever-developing relationship between Catholics and Jews. The fact that Walter is a German theologian also cannot help but be important – given the Holocaust – during which all four of us were alive.

This volume will be an eye-opener for those Christians and Jews, and intelligent outside observers, e.g., Muslims and Nones, how these two sibling religions – Christianity and Rabbinic Judaism – came into existence and developed alongside each other. It is worth the price of the book just to learn of the family-intertwined relationship of what have come to be called “Rabbinical Judaism” and “Christianity.” To begin, Jesus (which name is an English spelling of the Latin Iesus, which is a translation of the New Testament Greek, Iesous, which is a translation of the Hebrew/Aramaic Yeshua. The latter was how he in life was named by his friends, and enemies. Also telling, in this regard, was that he was addressed as “Rabbi,” which means “Teacher.” The New Testament was written Greek (which was the generally known language in the Roman Empire of the first century of the Common Era), and consequently, almost always in its pages Jesus/Yeshua was addressed as Didascalos , Teacher, which is a translation of the term actually used, Rabbi (“Teacher”) in Hebrew. So, when we read in English that when he is addressed as Master, or Lord, he in fact was addressed as Rabbi! What difference in Christian-Jewish relations might it have made over the centuries if the masses of illiterate Christians had constantly heard Yeshua addressed as Rabbi!

There were at least a half dozen Jewish groups contending during Yeshua’s time about what was the correct way to live as a Jew: 1) Pharisees, 2) Sadducees, 3) Zealots, 4) Qumranites, 5) Hellenists, 6) “Yeshuites.” The latter, initially, according to St. Luke’s Acts of the Apostles, called themselves “Followers of the Way” – Hodos in Greek – of Rabbi Yeshua. It was only many decades after the death of their Rabbi that they were called “Christians.” Only two groups survived the devasting three wars with the Roman Empire (64-70; 115-117; 130-135): 1) The Followers of the Pharisees, “Rabbinic Judaism,” and 6) the Followers of Rabbi Yeshua, later called “Christians.”

Hence,” Christianity and Judaism are sibling religions, both monotheistic, and both stemming from the same Hebraic Biblical roots, each with its distinctive interpretation thereof. It was not that Christianity broke away from and replaced, or succeeded, Judaism. There was no “Judaism” for “Christianity” to succeed and replace. There were/are two sibling groups of Israelites that claimed in the midst of a number of contending groups, that theirs was the correct interpretation of the only monotheistic religion that had ever existed.

But, this was only the beginning of the love/hate (unfortunately, more of the latter) of the two thousand year relationship that Kasper distills and outlines for contemporary Christians – and for Jews, and Nones. After distilling the first centuries of the often slow and painful separation and “distillation” of the two sibling monotheist traditions, which were largely solidified by the end of the fourth century when, on the one hand, the Jewish Mishnah was distilled and the Talmud was in final formation on the one hand, and the New Testament was finally codified, the first Creeds declared, and Christianity was declared by Emperor Theodosius as the only accepted religion of the Roman Empire on the other.

Kasper lays out with clarity the often-grim subsequent history of Jews in medieval Christendom with its dialectic of murdering, and protecting Jews, depending on the vagaries of sociological and intellectual movements: e.g., the papacy had a better record vis a vis the Jews than other medieval institutions – doubtless surprising to many. Finally, the 18th-century Enlightenment broke the physical confinement of Jews in Western Europe and burgeoning America, which produced multiple intellectual giants, like Marx, Freud, Einstein…., chased by the catastrophic late 19th-century creation of racist-based Antisemitism, which funneled into the horrific Endlösung, “Final Solution,,” of Nazi Germany.

Under the inspiration of Pope St. John XXIII, Vatican Council II (1962-65), in the midst of a plethora of creative, liberating documents, a rapprochement was created by the Catholic Church in reaching out to Jews and Judaism in deep regret and eagerness to build bridges between the two “sisters,” Ecclesia and Synagoga, who had been depicted in multiple medieval European cathedrals as dual statues of young women — Ecclesia triumphant, and Synagoga as blindfolded and with a broken staff. Only, now Synagoga in reality is no longer seen by Ecclesia as spiritually blinded, but is embraced as Juden und Christen — das eine Volk Gottes (Jews and Christians – the One People of God). The way forward in Jewish and Christian dialogue and collaboration beckons with sure guides like Walter Kasper.

Leonard Swidler,

Lizenz: CC

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