Pope Benedict admits Christians efforts to convert the Jews have been ‘a horrifying misunderstanding’.

In the second volume of his trilogy, Jesus of Nazareth, Pope Benedict makes a statement that, potentially, will have a profound and beneficial effect on Catholic and Jewish relations. In the section dealing with ‘The Time of the Gentiles’ the Holy Father gives a biblical justification for Christians not seeking to convert Jews at this phase of salvation history.

Pope Benedict indicates that past efforts to seek the conversion of the Jews were a horrifying misunderstanding on the part of Christians.

‘In this regard, the question of Israel’s mission has always been present in the background. We realize today with horror how many misunderstandings with grave consequences have weighed down our history. Yet a new reflection can acknowledge that the beginnings of a correct understanding have always been there, waiting to be rediscovered, however deep the shadows.’ (p.44).

Pope Benedict quotes with approval Hildegard Brem’s comments:

‘In the light of Romans 11:25, the Church must not concern herself with the conversion of the Jews, since she must wait for the time fixed for this by God, ‘until the full number of the Gentiles come in’ (Rom 11:25).  On the contrary, the Jews themselves are a living homily to which the Church must draw attention, since they call to mind the Lord’s suffering’.  (p.45).

This does not mean that the Jews do not require conversion to faith in Jesus, but that this is in the hands of God as his original chosen people, and is not in the hands of the Church at the present time.

The duty of the Church at the present time, the ‘time of the gentiles’,  is to focus on her mission to evangelise every gentile nation of the world, because it is only when the Church has fulfilled this responsibility that the next phase of salvation history can commence, God’s conversion of the Jewish people to faith in Jesus as saviour of the world.

Furthermore, Hildegaard Brem, and Pope Benedict, are proposing that the Jews must have a special place in the hearts and prayers of Christians, because their innocent sufferings call to mind the Lord’s suffering. Surely this must involve our recognition that for centuries Christians have been involved in the shameful crucifixion of the Jewish people.  It is heart breaking to realise how horrifyingly wrong Christians have been in their understanding of God’s plan for the Jewish people, and the terrible consequences that have flowed from this misunderstanding of scripture.

Pope Benedict’s radical thoughts on this matter do not appear to require that the Church change her prayer for the Jewish people on Good Friday because it is not a prayer that encourages Christians to convert the Jewish people but only to pray that they remain true to His covenant and come to the ‘fullness of redemption’, that is, redemption through Christ, which we now understand is in God’s own time.

Let us pray
For the Jewish people,
The first to hear the word of God,
That they may continue to grow in the love of his name
And in faithfulness to his covenant
Almighty and eternal God,
Long ago you gave your promise to Abraham and his posterity.
Listen to your Church as we pray
That the people you first made your own
May arrive at the fullness of redemption.

Having said this, it does mean that as Christians we must not focus our missionary activity on evangelising the Jewish people.  If individual Jews approach Christians to hear the Gospel that is their choice on their journey of faith, but we must be reactive, not proactive.

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23 comments to Pope Benedict admits Christians efforts to convert the Jews have been ‘a horrifying misunderstanding’.

  • Auricularis

    Hermeneutic of contradiction

    • Deacon Nick

      Auricularis, remember the Church makes the distinction between traditions which are man-made, either errors or time-bound, and Tradition which maintains and contains the living revelation of God. Pope Benedict upholds the hermeneutic of continuity of Tradition, not traditions.

      • It is really in accordance with the Tradition. St. Bernard of Clairvaux said that at the End of the Time, the Jewish People will come back and recognise the Messiah, after all gentiles are converted. So Pope Benedict, who is a great scholar of medieval spirituality, has certainly this great Saint in mind.

        And the Church in Middle Ages did not try in general to convert the Jews, the only example which comes to mind is the Spanish Inquisition when Jews must convert if they did want to be expelled. Some individual experiments were made to convert the Jews but it didn’t belong to the provenance of the mission of the Church. It have really been pagans who are the main target of the mission of the Church.

        • Tim

          “, the only example which comes to mind is the Spanish Inquisition when Jews must convert if they did want to be expelled”

          surely the problem with that was that conversion was forced, not that the victims of it were jewish?

          If God really wants the Jews to be left alone before he is ready to convert them and if he really does burn those unconverted Jews in Hell, the can someone explain why this doesn’t mean that God is a terrible racist (punishing inocent people because of their race which is somethign that they have absolutely no control over)? Why would you want to worship a racist god?

  • Auricularis

    So is Our Lord’s instruction to the apostles to preach the gospel to all all nations and baptise people, a tradition or Tradition?

    This is nothing short of false ecumenism, that is so rampant in our church today.

    • Deacon Nick

      Auricularis, you make a valid point. It’s difficult, at times, to distinguish between a tradition and Tradition. The only body capable of this is the Magisterium. Pope Benedict has made this statement in a private capacity, and not in his role as Pontiff. Only time will tell if the Magisterium accepts or rejects his radical proposal. However, I disagree with your accusation that this is an example of false ecumenism.

  • John McGirr

    We don’t try to convert Eastern schismatics, “Pastoral activity in the Catholic Church, Latin as well as Oriental, no longer aims at having the faithful of one Church pass over to the other; that is to say, it no longer aims at proselytizing among the Orthodox.” (Balemand Declaration.
    We are too frightened to try to convert Moslems, as we are not ready for martyrdom.
    Now we can’t try to convert the Jews.
    Maybe we could be give a list of those that we are alowed to bring Chrit’s Church to.

  • Deacon Nick,

    What about the individual Jewish person who will die this very night, or who died a moment ago, in a state of explicit denial of Our Lord Jesus Christ? How can such a person be saved? What does the Pope say about these Jewish persons whose immortal souls are at stake here and now?

    • Deacon Nick

      David, see Catechism of Catholic Church 846-848 quoted in my other post that deals with the destiny of Jewish people and salvation.

  • … a profound and beneficial effect on Catholic and Jewish relations …

    What about the effect on the immortal souls of individual Jewish persons who live among us? Should we just let them go their way? Do we not care about their salvation?

  • [The Catholic Church]firmly believes, professes, and proclaims that those not living within the Catholic Church, not only pagans, but also Jews and heretics and schismatics cannot become participants in eternal life, but will depart “into everlasting fire which was prepared for the devil and his angels” [Matt. 25:41], unless before the end of life the same have been added to the flock … (Council of Florence, Cantate Domino)

    As Catholics we are bound to give our assent to the dogmatic teachings of the Church, such as the one above promulgated by the Council of Florence. The Pope himself is bound to give his assent to those teachings. Now, I understand that the Pope has not denied the teaching of Cantate Domino. The issue is pastoral in nature. Given his belief in the dogmatic teaching of Cantate Domino (I can only assume that he assents to that teaching), how can the Pope in conscience pursue a pastoral strategy that leaves individual Jewish persons, here and now, in danger of eternal damnation?

    • Deacon Nick

      David, as Catholics we are also bound to give our assent to the development of doctrine in the Church under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. (Dei Verbum 8 ) This is what the Catechism of the Catholic Church states about salvation outside the Church:

      “Outside the Church there is no salvation”

      846 How are we to understand this affirmation, often repeated by the Church Fathers?335 Re-formulated positively, it means that all salvation comes from Christ the Head through the Church which is his Body:

      Basing itself on Scripture and Tradition, the Council teaches that the Church, a pilgrim now on earth, is necessary for salvation: the one Christ is the mediator and the way of salvation; he is present to us in his body which is the Church. He himself explicitly asserted the necessity of faith and Baptism, and thereby affirmed at the same time the necessity of the Church which men enter through Baptism as through a door. Hence they could not be saved who, knowing that the Catholic Church was founded as necessary by God through Christ, would refuse either to enter it or to remain in it.336

      847 This affirmation is not aimed at those who, through no fault of their own, do not know Christ and his Church:

      Those who, through no fault of their own, do not know the Gospel of Christ or his Church, but who nevertheless seek God with a sincere heart, and, moved by grace, try in their actions to do his will as they know it through the dictates of their conscience – those too may achieve eternal salvation. (LG 16)

      848 “Although in ways known to himself God can lead those who, through no fault of their own, are ignorant of the Gospel, to that faith without which it is impossible to please him, the Church still has the obligation and also the sacred right to evangelize all men.” (AG 7).

      The question is now, how does Pope Benedict square his radical teaching on the conversion of the Jewish people with AG 7?

  • The question is now, how does Pope Benedict square his radical teaching on the conversion of the Jewish people with AG 7?

    Indeed. How do you think that he squares it? It seems quite like squaring a circle.

    The Church has the obligation to evangelize all men because Our Lord Jesus Christ commands it. What gives the Pope the right to exclude the Jews from the offer of mercy and salvation that is the heart of evangelization?

  • James02

    I missed the part where Pope Benedict indicates that Christian efforts to convert the Jews have been a horrifying misunderstanding. In these troubling times, it is important to quote accurately.

    Outside the Church there is absolutely no salvation. You must have Faith in Jesus Christ and be baptized, though Church Fathers have also preached that an explicit desire to be baptized coupled with Faith in Jesus will suffice. The Jews have neither. They need the gospel preached to them by the Church and they need to be converted so they don’t burn in hell. They are now mired in a false religion that can’t save them.

    Pope Pius XII: “Some reduce to a meaningless formula the ***necessity*** of belonging to the true Church in order to gain eternal salvation.” (Not some private book).

  • James02

    Your quote: “848 “Although in ways known to himself God ***can lead those*** who, through no fault of their own, are ignorant of the Gospel, ***to that faith*** without which it is impossible to please him”

    FAITH is required.

  • James02

    “We must be reactive, not proactive”

    I guess St. Vincent Ferrara blew it for preaching and converting 10′s of thousands of Jews.

  • Frank Swarbrick

    Dear Deacon Nick,

    You appear to have exposed quite a lot of misunderstanding amongst not so well-informed Catholics today by your comments from the Holy Father’s recent Vol 2 of Jesus of Nazareth. e.g. the difference between tradition and Tradition, the Bible and the Magisterium of the Church. The ultimate Authority of the Pope.
    I think you have handled all the queries extremely well and in a most charitable way. Keep up the good work Nick!

  • Tim

    Surely this raises complex questions about the definition of a Jewish person? Does this “non-evangalisation policy” apply only to religious Jews or to those who have belong to the Jewish racial group? If it is the latter then it is rather problematic, because science shows us that the idea of distinct racial groups is rather shakey. Noone can say for certain that they do not have at least some jewish blood in them.

    Surely the only humane approach to apply to both Jews and non-Jews is for Catholics to gently evalgelise but to leave the step of “conversion” to the individual (or God if you prefer). Explain your faith but give the individual complete freedom to take it or leave it.

    If evalgelisation is done with care, love and respect then it ought not to have “grave consequnces” for anyone Jewish or not.

    The idea of treating people differently because of their racial group is rather distasteful to my mind.

  • Minnesota Mary

    I’ll bet this brouhaha over the Pope’s words regarding evangelization of the Jews will translate into big book sales.

  • Tim

    I honestly don;t think that the Pope is worried about book royalties

  • Nancy D.

    I honestly do not believe that Pope Benedict wrote the statement on the evangelization of the Jews. The question is, who wrote it, and why have there been a number of statements in recent texts that have been released from The Vatican with conflicting statements? I am thinking of the quote from the false gospel of thomas in Pope Benedict’s book, Jesus of Nazareth, that is not consistent with The Gospel of John, nor is it consistent with the Pope’s style, nor would our Pope use a false gospel and contrast it with the Gospel of John without pointing out that it is erroneous. I am also thinking of his praise for an author who rejects elements of the Dogma of our Faith, in his second book, Jesus of Nazareth. In the new YOUCAT in regards to contraception there is a conflicting statement in #421. The statement”…and in the long run(contraception use) can be detrimental to the couple’s life”, is not consistent with the statement by Pope John Paul II which clearly indicates that contraception use is detrimental from the beginning, “When couples have recourse to contraception…they manipulate and degrade human sexuality-and with it themselves and their married partner-by altering its value of self-giving.” We need to find out what is going on in The Vatican and protect our Pope.

  • Louis Farrakhan



    I read somewhere that the Roman Catholic Church preached that, outside the Catholic Church there is no salvation:


    Bull of Pope Boniface VIII promulgated November 18, 1302

    Urged by faith, we are obliged to believe and to maintain that the Church is one, holy, catholic, and also apostolic. We believe in her firmly and we confess with simplicity that outside of her there is neither salvation nor the remission of sins, as the Spouse in the Canticles [Sgs 6:8] proclaims: ‘One is my dove, my perfect one. She is the only one, the chosen of her who bore her,’ and she represents one sole mystical body whose Head is Christ and the head of Christ is God [1 Cor 11:3]. In her then is one Lord, one faith, one baptism [Eph 4:5]. There had been at the time of the deluge only one ark of Noah, prefiguring the one Church, which ark, having been finished to a single cubit, had only one pilot and guide, i.e., Noah, and we read that, outside of this ark, all that subsisted on the earth was destroyed.

    We venerate this Church as one, the Lord having said by the mouth of the prophet: ‘Deliver, O God, my soul from the sword and my only one from the hand of the dog.’ [Ps 21:20] He has prayed for his soul, that is for himself, heart and body; and this body, that is to say, the Church, He has called one because of the unity of the Spouse, of the faith, of the sacraments, and of the charity of the Church. This is the tunic of the Lord, the seamless tunic, which was not rent but which was cast by lot [Jn 19:23- 24]. Therefore, of the one and only Church there is one body and one head, not two heads like a monster; that is, Christ and the Vicar of Christ, Peter and the successor of Peter, since the Lord speaking to Peter Himself said: ‘Feed my sheep’ [Jn 21:17], meaning, my sheep in general, not these, nor those in particular, whence we understand that He entrusted all to him [Peter]. Therefore, if the Greeks or others should say that they are not confided to Peter and to his successors, they must confess not being the sheep of Christ, since Our Lord says in John ‘there is one sheepfold and one shepherd.’ We are informed by the texts of the gospels that in this Church and in its power are two swords; namely, the spiritual and the temporal. For when the Apostles say: ‘Behold, here are two swords’ [Lk 22:38] that is to say, in the Church, since the Apostles were speaking, the Lord did not reply that there were too many, but sufficient. Certainly the one who denies that the temporal sword is in the power of Peter has not listened well to the word of the Lord commanding: ‘Put up thy sword into thy scabbard’ [Mt 26:52]. Both, therefore, are in the power of the Church, that is to say, the spiritual and the material sword, but the former is to be administered for the Church but the latter by the Church; the former in the hands of the priest; the latter by the hands of kings and soldiers, but at the will and sufferance of the priest.

    However, one sword ought to be subordinated to the other and temporal authority, subjected to spiritual power. For since the Apostle said: ‘There is no power except from God and the things that are, are ordained of God’ [Rom 13:1-2], but they would not be ordained if one sword were not subordinated to the other and if the inferior one, as it were, were not led upwards by the other.

    For, according to the Blessed Dionysius, it is a law of the divinity that the lowest things reach the highest place by intermediaries. Then, according to the order of the universe, all things are not led back to order equally and immediately, but the lowest by the intermediary, and the inferior by the superior. Hence we must recognize the more clearly that spiritual power surpasses in dignity and in nobility any temporal power whatever, as spiritual things surpass the temporal. This we see very clearly also by the payment, benediction, and consecration of the tithes, but the acceptance of power itself and by the government even of things. For with truth as our witness, it belongs to spiritual power to establish the terrestrial power and to pass judgement if it has not been good. Thus is accomplished the prophecy of Jeremias concerning the Church and the ecclesiastical power: ‘Behold to-day I have placed you over nations, and over kingdoms’ and the rest. Therefore, if the terrestrial power err, it will be judged by the spiritual power; but if a minor spiritual power err, it will be judged by a superior spiritual power; but if the highest power of all err, it can be judged only by God, and not by man, according to the testimony of the Apostle: ‘The spiritual man judgeth of all things and he himself is judged by no man’ [1 Cor 2:15]. This authority, however, (though it has been given to man and is exercised by man), is not human but rather divine, granted to Peter by a divine word and reaffirmed to him (Peter) and his successors by the One Whom Peter confessed, the Lord saying to Peter himself, ‘Whatsoever you shall bind on earth, shall be bound also in Heaven’ etc., [Mt 16:19]. Therefore whoever resists this power thus ordained by God, resists the ordinance of God [Rom 13:2], unless he invent like Manicheus two beginnings, which is false and judged by us heretical, since according to the testimony of Moses, it is not in the beginnings but in the beginning that God created heaven and earth [Gen 1:1]. Furthermore, we declare, we proclaim, we define that it is absolutely necessary for salvation that every human creature be subject to the Roman Pontiff.

    Was that all BULL or is there any truth to it? Was it tradition or TRADITION? Is the Catholic Church suffering from schizophrenia?

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