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Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger

Many Religions - One Covenant  

by THERESA OíKEEFE

Theresa O'Keefe is a doctoral fellow at Boston College's Institute for Religious Education and Pastoral Ministry

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One of the fascinating and challenging elements of interfaith dialogue is that no longer can a religious community theologize without considering the implications of their efforts on their dialogue partner. It is becoming increasingly obvious that what one says about oneself has implications for how the other is viewed. Although this in fact has always been the case, what is new is that the other is reading, responding to and critiquing what is said, and that response has to be taken seriously. In interfaith dialogue we are realizing more and more that our theology is done "at the edge" of our traditions, in conversation with the other.

Perhaps no where is this seen more clearly than in the Catholic Churchís effort to define what it means for Christians to be in covenant with Christ, while maintaining that the covenant between God and Israel has never been revoked. Since the Second Vatican Council promulgated Nostra Aetate, the 1965 declaration on the churchís relationship with non-Christian religions, the Catholic Church has been seriously challenged in its effort to define covenant. The declaration states that the covenant with Israel has never been abrogated, yet it maintains that the church "must ever proclaim Christ, Ďthe way, the truth, and the life,í in whom men find the fullness of religious life and in whom God has reconciled all things to Himself" (Nostra Aetate, 2). The theological question is, How can these two positions be held simultaneously?

Part of the challenge of addressing this question in the present situation is that the Catholic Church is now in formal dialogue with Jewish organizations. As dialogue partners, Jewish scholars are going to read and respond to how Catholic theologians define covenant and determine what it means to be faithful to that covenant. This theological endeavor is no longer purely an internal process. It affects the Jews, and Jews will, for the sake of the relationship, engage what the Church says. It is conscious of the public nature of the discussion that I comment on Many Religions, One Covenant by Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger.

The Book: The Authorís Intent

Published in 1999, the book is composed of three lectures and a homily which focus around different elements of interfaith dialogue, and the theological question of covenant in particular. The author recognizes that interfaith dialogue for mutual understanding is today more important than ever as religious groups increasingly encounter one another in sustained ways. Yet he recognizes that dialogue is not simply for the sake of knowledge, but also so that religious groups can cooperate in a world much in need of healing.

Although the title, Many Religions Ė One Covenant, suggests that the book will deal with multiple religious traditions, in fact most of its attention is given to the Churchís relationship with Judaism. The author himself notes that the most theologically pressing questions stem from "the relationship between the Church and Israel," inspired in great part by the Shoah and concerns for Christian culpability (p. 17). 

Ratzinger recognizes that one of the responses to the horrors of the history of Christian-Jewish relations is to question whether faith in Jesus necessarily "contain[s] an implicit condemnation of the Jews as stubborn and blind, as guilty of the death of the Son of God?" And whether "the very core of the faith of Christians compels intolerance, even hostility toward the Jews" (p. 23). Aware of this attitude, Ratzinger is concerned that Christians keep faith in Jesus Christ central to Christianity and not give it up in light of the discomfort of admitting to past history. He also wishes to demonstrate that faith in Jesus does not necessitate a condemnation of Judaism, in fact, it requires an affirmation of the faith of Israel.

The thrust of his argument on covenant demonstrates that the covenant established in Christ is not in contradiction with the prior covenants God made with the people of Israel. He demonstrates well how not only the teaching, but also the life of Jesus Christ can be understood to be in keeping with the prior covenants. In this small book of only 113 pages, he suggests many possible foundations upon which fuller theological arguments could be built in future.

Although he seems to succeed in demonstrating the continuity of Godís covenant to the Israelites in the Christ event, his arguments may not be sufficient for the purposes of recognizing the continued validity of the covenant of God with the Jewish people Ė those who do not recognize Christ. I would suggest that this question is equally important. If we are to maintain that Godís covenant with the Jewish people has not been revoked, we need to understand within our own frameworks how this might be so. That is not to define Judaism for Jews, but is to recognize for ourselves how two co-existent covenant communities, which may seem mutually exclusive, can both be valid.

Ratzinger admits that this book is not a systematic analysis of the theological issues. Instead it is intended by the author as "no more than slight and tentative approaches to the great topic; however, fragmentary as they are they can perhaps promote the questioning process" (pp. 19-20). It is in response to that invitation that I address his work by pointing to questions and possibilities that I believe Ratzingerís work suggests.

The Singularity of the Covenant

Central to Ratzingerís argument is the understanding that there is one Covenant and several covenants - he uses the upper and lower case letters when referring to each. Within the discussion he distinguishes between the forms of different covenants that are found in the Hebrew Scriptures: those of promise versus those of contract and eternal versus temporal. He draws on Paulís distinction between the eternal covenant made with the Patriarchs with that made at Sinai (p. 56). The Sinai covenant is "incorporated into the covenant with Abraham, and the Law becomes the mediator of promise." The Sinai covenant works within the Abrahamic promise, and so there cannot be an opposition between them.

Yet where Ratzinger proceeds from that point is both hopeful and unclear. He goes on to interpret Paul to say that likewise the Old and New Covenant cannot be "strict opposites" and that:

[A]ll history is a unity in tension: the one Covenant is realized in a plurality of covenants.

If this is so, there can be no question of setting the Old and the New Testaments against each other as two different religions; there is only one will of God for men, only one historical activity of God with and for men, though this activity employs interventions that are diverse and even in part contradictory Ė yet in truth they belong together (p. 57). 

What is hopeful is that Ratzinger seems to be making room for a variety of covenants, as long as they adhere to the one will of God. What is unclear is that he never indicates which covenants are to be included in that "plurality." Are we speaking of contemporary Christianity and contemporary Judaism as both participating in an eternal promise made to Abraham but lived out in different "interventions"?

I do not know whether the author is intentionally ambiguous or whether need for the distinction never occurred to him. But in many instances throughout the book this lack of clarity sometimes obfuscates the argument. What is clear is that he is trying to argue for the continuity of the covenant made in Christ with the eternal promise made with Abraham. What is unclear is how he understands the covenant made at Sinai, and its usefulness after the Christ event. At one point he says,

Godís pedagogy with mankind operates in such a way that its individual props are jettisoned when the goal of the educational process is reached. Particular paths are abandoned, but the meaning remains (p.56).

This statement is made to introduce a discussion on the role of the Sinai Law within the Abrahamic promise. However, he does not say what the goal is. Is it the coming of Christ? Is it the eschaton? Obviously such a distinction matters. For to say that the Sinai covenant is "jettisoned" with the coming of Christ, then it puts into question the value of following that "pedagogy" for Jews today.

Covenant as Relationship

Ratzinger briefly takes up the philosophical underpinnings of Christian thought on covenant, and writes that the concept of relatio was borrowed from Greek philosophy. However, Greek thought required that God not enter into relationships that were necessarily changing: "Infinity requires immutability, and the immutability excludes relationships that come and go in time and as a result of time" (p. 52). In response Ratzinger suggests that perhaps the very opposite is true in covenantal thought.

He drops this line of thought until later in the book, when he asserts that the God of the Bible is a God-in-relationship. In this instance he is looking to the Christian Trinitarian understanding of God, and noting that the human is made in the image of God,

[I]t means he is being designed for relationshipÖ.In this context, covenant would be the response to manís imaging God; it would show us who we are and who God is. And for God, since he is entirely relationship, covenant would not be something external in history (p. 77). 

This final statement occurs within a discussion of Christology, so it might be assumed that here he is talking of the covenant in Christ. I mention this brief discussion of covenant as relationship because I think it has potential for explaining how an eternal covenant gets lived out in temporal situations.

If the covenant is relational, then, like all relationships, variations on expressions or terms are not only acceptable, but expected. No two relationships are identical. They are determined not only by the nature of the two parties, but also by the circumstances in which they find themselves. Relationships are also temporal in nature; they are lived in history and they change over time. It is unfortunate that the brevity of the volume did not allow development of this line of thought. It might have been a means of enhancing Ratzinger's central assertion that a single Covenant is lived out in a plurality of covenants.

The Problem with A-temporality

Ratzinger seldom speaks of covenants as historically situated, affected by context, time, and circumstances. He does not speak of how they are actually lived. This, I believe, generates several problems. First there is the difficulty of not speaking of the various covenants in a consistent manner.

The only time that he speaks of a covenant as a relationship lived in time, he refers to the Sinai covenant. As quoted above, "the Sinai covenant in Exodus 24 appears essentially as the Ďimposition of laws and obligations on the peopleí" (p. 56). That is not to say that the author thinks that "laws and obligations" are a bad thing. In fact, he speaks quite warmly of the Law, saying such things as, "the Law is the concrete form of grace. For to know Godís will is grace" (p. 69). Later in the book when speaking of the Torah he names it, "the commitment to Godís will and the establishment of his rule, his kingdom in this world" (p. 104). He also speaks of the false distinction between the cult and the ethic of the Law: "The Decalogue as the core of the work of the Law shows clearly enough that the worship of God is completely inseparable from morals, cult and ethos" (p. 38). The difficulty in his argument is not that he does not respect the Law, but that it has no parallel in his discussion of living the covenant in Christ.

That covenant takes on an ahistorical quality, as if it is not lived out in time. Here he takes his lead from Paulís writing in 1 Corinthians: "But he who is united to the Lord becomes one pneuma (one spirit) with him" (1Cor 6.17). Ratzinger interprets these words in this way:

These words present us with an entirely different kind of relationship: a sacramental relationship with Christ Ė and hence with God Ė detaches man from his own material and transitory world and lifts him up into the being of God, to which the Apostle gives the word pneuma. The God who has come down thus draws man up into his own realm. Being related to God means a new and profoundly transformed level of existence for man (p. 61).

Consistently Ratzinger, following Paulís lead, wishes to connect the covenant in Christ with the eternal promise made to Abraham. So he repeatedly speaks of the eternal nature of the covenant in Christ. What is difficult is that this gives the impression that the Christian covenant is not lived in time; that there are no laws and obligations, as there are in the Sinai covenant; that Christians despite their living the life of God also consistently sin.

This kind of representation is misleading, for from the very beginning the Christian community has also had expectations for ethical conduct as well as for a life of worship. To not recognize that reality and bring it explicitly to the discussion as how Christians live out the covenant with Christ makes it impossible to speak of Jews and Christians both living out some similar covenantal reality. In fact, it allows continuation of the false distinction between Christianity and Judaism that says Jews are legalistic, but Christians are of the Spirit. David Novak speaks to this when he writes:

When Christians stop seeing Judaism as legalism, they will be in a much better position to realize the importance of law in Christianity. And when Jews stop seeing Christianity as antinomian, as against the law, they will be in a much better position to realize the importance of grace in Judaism. Indeed, such understanding of each side by the other might lead each tradition not only to a better understanding of the other but to a better understanding of itself (David Novak, "Mitsvah," in Tikva Frymer-Kensky et al, eds, Christianity in Jewish Terms [Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 2000], p. 116). 

Novak is referring to the traditional lines of demarcation between the two traditions. As he says here, they are false distinctions and inhibit each side's ability to see itself rightly. Unfortunately, in some ways Ratzinger falls into this caricature by speaking of the covenant in Christ exclusively in an atemporal way.

Only late in the book does he make some parallel between Christians and Jews living covenantally in time, when he says: "Christ, for the Christian, is Sinai present here and now, the living Torah, who imposes duties upon us and challenges us to obedience" (p. 106). However, this is still insufficient. For throughout the text, referencing Paulís interpretation, he speaks of the Sinai covenant as "transitory," and "conditional, that is, temporal; within Godís providential rule it is a stage that has its own allotted period of time" (pp. 53 and 68). Represented in this way it implies that the Sinai covenant has outlived its usefulness to humanity, and is no longer of value as a way of life.

If the author would enable the reader to consider that the Christian covenant is likewise lived in time Ė temporal Ė with rules and obligations that are necessarily transient, then the discussion would be, I believe, more accurate and allow for greater recognition of Judaism's continuing covenant. Perhaps the key to unlocking this problem of in-time versus out-of-time thinking is the use of the word temporal.

Could the covenant in Christ be spoken of as temporal, in that it is lived out in time? Could then both the Christian and Sinai covenants be understood as having some validity in their both being "the commitment to Godís will and the establishment of his rule, his kingdom in this world" or forms of "Godís pedagogy?" For it is one thing to speak of the covenant in Christ as eternal, connected to the unbreakable promise of God to Abraham, but it is quite another thing to deny that it is lived out in time and that the Christian has no obligation to the relationship with God Ė as the Jew does in the Sinai covenant.  Philip A. Cunningham, for example, suggests a more parallel nature when he images both communities as "covenanting" with God. This succeeds in recognizing the effort of both communities to live faithfully in time. (See his A Story of Shalom: The Calling of Christians and Jews by a Covenanting God [New York: Paulist Press, 2001]). 

Devaluing Sinai

Another problem with continually referring to the Sinai covenant as transitory, with no qualifications, is that it ignores the fact that millions of Jews continue to live and find meaning in what they understand to be the Sinai covenant. To enter interfaith dialogue with this perspective starts the discussion from a position of at least devaluing the religious practice of the Jewish dialogue partners. This is not a promising entry point.

However, it is hard to say that Ratzinger intends to devalue the Sinai covenant and its continuation after the Christ event. In fact, at the very start he asks if Christian faith can "not only tolerate Judaism but accept it in its historic mission" (p. 24). And in another place he writes:

For Israel, at least for its best representatives, the Law is the visibility of the truth, the visibility of Godís countenance, and so it gives us the possibility of right living (p. 69).

The problem comes from his not specifically assigning this living of the Law to any historic situation. For example, what does he mean by "its historic mission?" Is it the role Judaism played in preparing the world for the coming of Christ, or is it an ongoing mission to the world? As well, when he speaks of "its best representatives" is he speaking of current practitioners or those alive at the time of Jesus of Nazareth who recognized Jesus as the Messiah? Even if he is speaking to the current situation, he never makes the same qualifying remark for Christians living in covenant with Christ.

In fact, no where does Ratzinger refer to the ongoing life of Judaism after the time of Christ. This is a significant omission made, unfortunately, by many Christian scholars. As a result many Christians are ignorant of the significant changes that transpired during those centuries after the Temple was destroyed. That includes an awareness of the rabbinic effort to rethink what it means to live Torah. Such an oversight has given the impression among Christians that somehow contemporary Judaism is much like Judaism of Jesusí time. This assumption on the part of Christians belies an ignorance of Second Temple Judaism as well as of the creative vitality of contemporary Judaism.

Perhaps it is too much to ask that such a small volume give more attention to living Judaism today. Yet I would suggest it is a crucial oversight. To speak of Jews living in covenant, living Torah, without referencing the Talmudic period is to ignore what some Jews understand to be a revelatory period in Jewish history. It belittles the struggle of the Jewish people to live in obedience to Godís covenant in the face of devastation of their cultic and national center Ė Jerusalem. In fact, I believe it is inadequate to speak of Judaism and the Sinai covenant without referencing this reshaping accomplished under the direction of the rabbis.

The Problem of Fulfillment Language

Another significant problem in our efforts to affirm the continuation of the covenant with Abraham in the covenant in Christ is our speaking of Christís fulfilling the covenant. Ratzinger uses this "fulfillment" language in this work, particularly when he highlights the teachings found in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. His draws out the argument found in the Catechism, based on an interpretation of Matthew, that Jesus came to fulfill the Law.

The intent of Ratzingerís teaching in this section seems to be addressing the question of why Christians do not observe the Law if Jesus is in line with the covenants with Abraham and Sinai. He does this by affirming the inseparability of cultic practice and ethical behavior. He then describes Jesus as drawing all cultic activity perfectly into himself on the cross (p. 41). It is in this that Jesus somehow fulfills the Law.

However, the language of "fulfills/fulfilling/fulfillment" is problematic, in that to Jewish ears it immediately suggests an insufficiency in the revelation of God at Sinai. Likewise, it suggests that Jewish practice is necessarily inadequate or obsolete.

Perhaps this is what Ratzinger wishes to say. However, his argument otherwise seems to suggest that the Christ event was successful in bringing the eternal, universal promise made to Abraham out of the particular practice of the nation of Israel to the nations:

The faith of Israel was directed to universality. Since it is devoted to the one God of all men, it also bore within itself the promise to become the faith of all nations. But the Law, in which it was expressed, was particular, quite concretely directed to Israel and its history; it could not be universalized in this form. In the intersection of these paradoxes stands Jesus of Nazareth, who himself as a Jew lived entirely under the Law of Israel but knew himself to be at the same time the mediator of the universality of God (p. 23).

Ratzinger goes on to say only Godís own power would be able to move this particular observance beyond the nation of Israel: "Jesusí interpretation of the Law makes sense only if it is interpretation with divine authority, if God interprets himself" (p. 24). So Ratzinger is not saying that the Law is invalid or necessarily inadequate, except in its being limited to the people of Israel.

To speak of Jesusí activity as extending the covenantal relationship beyond the people of Israel, a mission that Ratzinger names specifically in a few places, is quite different from filling an inadequacy in the Law itself. Of course this capacity to extend the covenant is dependent upon an understanding of who Jesus Christ is and how he lived. Cunningham, in his telling the Christian story in a "post-supersessionist" account suggests using fulfillment to mean "living out in its fullest intensity Israelís covenanting life with God" (A Story of Shalom, p. 69).  This is a helpful understanding.

To suggest an inadequacy in the Sinai revelation is to suggest that God reveals inadequately, or Godís covenants are not full. As Cunningham continues, "Israelís covenanting life with God must be permanent and vital since the church knows with certainty that its covenanting with God through Christ is permanent and vital" (ibid.). To suggest that the earlier covenants were somehow inadequate is to offer the possibility that the covenant in Christ may somehow also be inadequate. Perhaps understanding all acts of covenanting in history as foretastes of the fullness of relationship with God in the eschatological future would be better.  

Using Pauline Literature

The book is also very dependent on certain metaphors used by the Apostle Paul. This can cause problems if these metaphors are uncritically transposed to our own day. There are three Pauline metaphors that Ratzinger alludes to in particular: that of the veil over the Law, like the veil over Mosesí face (2 Corinthians 4.7-18); the sons of Sarah and Hagar (Galatians 4. 21-31); and the wild branches grafted onto the good olive tree (Romans 11. 17-24).

In his use of the Romans image, Ratzinger is following the lead of Nostra Aetate, which cites the passage to illustrate that the covenant with Israel, made through Abraham, is foundational for the Christian church, and therefore not to be despised: "Nor can she forget that she draws sustenance from the root of that good olive tree onto which have been grafted the wild olive branches of the Gentiles" (Nostra Aetate, 4).  However, using this metaphor to speak of the ongoing covenant God has with Judaism is difficult if one reads the biblical passage fully. Paul clearly intends that those branches that are broken off are removed by God for their "unbelief" in Christ (Rom 11. 20). Even the hope that they will later be grafted back in is dependent upon their not "persisting in unbelief" (11. 23).

Likewise, the image of the veil has difficulties. Although it is a helpful image to convey that life in Christ is grounded in the law of Sinai, it makes it more difficult for Christians to recognize that the Law has revelatory value in and of itself. Paul writes: "Indeed to this very day whenever Moses is read, a veil lies over their minds; but when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed" (2 Cor 3. 15). Paul, expecting human history to end very shortly, can think of Christ disclosing the mysteries of the Law that were previously veiled. But does using this image without qualification readily serve the interests of a Church 2000 years later that now asserts the perpetual spiritual value of the Torah? A veiled scripture suggests that the Law cannot be read legitimately and fruitfully without Christ.

Finally, in the use of the two sons of Abraham, Paul associates Hagar with "Mount Sinai in Arabia and corresponds with the present Jerusalem, for she is in slavery with her children" (Gal 4. 25). He goes on to associate those who believe in Christ with "Isaac", whose mother is "the other woman" who corresponds "to the Jerusalem above" (4. 26). What is interesting here is that Paul does not name Sarah, who of course is the mother of the nation of Israel. Paul is trying to discourage the Galatian community from following practices of the Law by imaging them as free heirs, and the true descendants of Abraham. However, to read the text fully it is necessary to describe those Jews who did not recognize Jesus as the Christ as slaves who "will not share the inheritance with the child of the free woman" (4.30).

I am not suggesting that these metaphors should not be used; we have to come to terms with our own scriptural canon. What I would caution against is using the texts and their metaphors without caveat. As illustrated above, each of these images has their limitations when it comes to recognizing the continued validity of the Sinai covenant as lived by the Jewish people today.

Granted Ratzingerís book is a short one, and as he admits himself, does not allow for extensive exegesis. However, I think it important that as we enter into deeper consideration of this issue of covenant, and as we continue to be in dialogue with Jews, that we treat the Pauline texts with great care. For not to do so may have explosive consequences for the interfaith relationship.

To that end, I would like to name a few warnings. The first would be to recognize that Paulís relationship with the Law is ambiguous at best. For one thing, the different biblical texts disagree on the level of his own observance. Beyond that, his attitude towards observance and how he spoke about it varied somewhat from community to community. It is inappropriate to take his words on the Law on a given occasion without consideration of the issue he was addressing in the community.

Secondly it has to be asked, what in particular did Paul find disagreeable in the Law? Biblical scholar Bruce Longenecker contends that in Galatians Paulís opposition to the Law must be read in light of his eschatological expectations. The nomistic practices make separations among people that are no longer relevant in Christ. At the same time, Paul is convinced that faith in Christ will supersede any observance of the Law:

Paulís language of Ďfaithí in these verses [Gal. 3:15-20], then, is fundamentally a language of Ďparticipation,í a language that presupposes Paulís theology of union with Christ whereby Christians are incorporated into ChristÖ.If Godís in-breaking into the world has emerged from the faithfulness of Christ and resulted in the establishment of a new world, so Christian faith in the faithful one is the means of participation in that eschatological event, in anticipation of its future culmination (Bruce Longenecker, The Triumph of Abraham's God: The Transformation of Identity in Galatians [Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1998], p. 106).

Granted, Paulís ministry lasted several years, but his hope in the imminent return of the resurrected one seems fairly obvious. Had he any idea that the Church would carry on for at least two more millennia, he may have had different attitudes about how one lives out the covenant with Christ. Even in the Galatians text we see him instructing strongly on ethical and communal practice.

It is in the Pauline writing that we begin to get the ahistorical language of covenant living. Considered in light of the fact that Paul believed that the end time was ushered in with Christís death and resurrection, this eschatologically ahistorical language is understandable. However, it is inappropriate for the Christian church to continue using that language exclusively or without parameters. In fact it is a frequent accusation of Jews that Christians are too "timeless" in their spirituality and not attentive enough to the realities of human life. Irving Greenberg is one who warns Christians against such an attitude (Frymer-Kensky et al., Christianity in Jewish Terms, p. 32).

One also has to consider Paulís use of images and metaphors, which can be very midrashic. This can be seen in the 2 Corinthians text where he interplays Moses, the veil and the Law; we see a verse by verse change in what he intends in the different images (see Joseph A. Fitzmyer, "Glory Reflected in the face of Christ (2 Cor 4.3-4.6) and a Palestinian Jewish Motif" in Theological Studies 42/4 [1981], pp. 635-639). This style of reading text, although common and accepted practice for Jews of Paulís time (and still for Jews today), is unfamiliar to most contemporary Christian readers. Appreciating that form of interpretation may be valuable for Christians, especially as they see the varied readings it allows. That is to say that Paulís style may have been in accord with Jewish practice of his time, whereas his interpretation itself might have been quite unique.

Finally, it has to be recognized that Paul was not concerned with maintaining the validity of the ongoing covenant of God with those Jews who did not believe in Jesus as the Christ. His intention was to preach Christ crucified and raised, and that the only way to live was to live a life in Christ.

I believe that such warnings should not only be kept in mind when using these texts, but honestly named. When we keep in mind the very public nature of theology and its impact on interfaith dialogue, I believe it is important to be honest about our limitations and the struggles offered by our biblical texts.

Some Concluding Remarks

Cardinal Ratzingerís book Many Religions Ė One Covenant is in many respects a fine work. As he intended, it raises some important questions relative to the Catholic Churchís interaction with other religions, especially Judaism. He lays solid foundations upon which further work can be done. He takes some clears stands which will be helpful to others and contribute well to the discussion among Jews and Catholics. Beyond those that I have named above, I would like very briefly to mention others: he challenges Christian interpretations that misrepresent the Pharisees as legalistic; he speaks of the single mission of Christians and Jews; and he speaks of the conflict of Jesus and the Jewish authorities as one in which "obedience clashes with obedience" (pp. 30, 34 & 45, and 40).

The text is not free of difficulties. My purpose has been to indicate where some of those difficulties lie. Yet, I believe it is in the spirit of Ratzingerís work that I contribute to this conversation, by suggesting ways that these ideas might be problematic for dialogue with Jews. I agree with the author when he says that "the encounter of the religions is not possible by renouncing the truth but only by a deeper entering into it" (p. 109). Central to that effort is coming to see how we can talk of the validity of the covenant in Christ, while maintaining the validity of the covenant of God with Israel as it continues to be lived today.

Ratzinger himself suggests that the only way we can learn to do this is in the dialogue process. He ends the book with some very encouraging and challenging words when he admits to the centrality of dialogue for self-understanding:

What we need, however, is respect for the beliefs of others and the readiness to look for the truth in what strikes us as strange or foreign; for such truth concerns us and can correct us and lead us farther along the pathÖ.Furthermore, I need to be willing to allow my narrow understanding of truth to be broken down. I shall learn my own truth better if I understand the other person and allow myself to be moved along the road to the God who is ever greater, certain that I never hold the whole truth about God in my own hands but am always a learner, on pilgrimage toward it, on a path that has no end (p. 110).

These are very encouraging words from Cardinal Ratzinger. One that makes me hopeful for the work of the Church in dialogue in the future.


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