Vatican cardinal reassures Jewish leaders over Pope Francis’ comments on Torah

“The phrase ‘The law does not give life, it does not offer the fulfillment of the promise’ should not be extrapolated from its context, but must be considered within the overall framework of Pauline theology.”

“The abiding Christian conviction is that Jesus Christ is the new way of salvation. However, this does not mean that the Torah is diminished or no longer recognized as the ‘way of salvation for Jews.’”

Koch cited a 2015 speech that the pope gave to the International Council of Christians and Jews.

On that occasion, the pope said: “The Christian confessions find their unity in Christ; Judaism finds its unity in the Torah. Christians believe that Jesus Christ is the Word of God made flesh in the world; for Jews, the Word of God is present above all in the Torah. Both faith traditions find their foundation in the One God, the God of the Covenant, who reveals himself through his Word.”

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Koch emphasized that in his general audience address, the pope was reflecting “on Pauline theology within the historical context of a given era” and not commenting on contemporary Judaism.

“The fact that the Torah is crucial for modern Judaism is not questioned in any way,” he wrote.

He continued: “Bearing in mind the positive affirmations constantly made by Pope Francis on Judaism, it cannot in any way be presumed that he is returning to a so-called ‘doctrine of contempt.’”

“Pope Francis fully respects the foundations of Judaism and always seeks to deepen the bonds of friendship between the two faith traditions.”

Koch underlined that the pope agreed with the description of the relationship between Judaism and Christianity in the 2017 document “Between Jerusalem and Rome,” which marked the 50th anniversary of the Second Vatican Council’s seminal Declaration on the Relation of the Church with Non-Christian Religions, Nostra aetate.

The text, issued by the Conference of European Rabbis, the Rabbinical Council of America, and the Commission of the Chief Rabbinate of Israel, said: “The doctrinal differences are essential and cannot be debated or negotiated; their meaning and importance belong to the international deliberations of the respective faith communities … However, doctrinal differences do not and may not stand in the way of our peaceful collaboration for the betterment of our shared world and the lives of the children of Noah.”

The document was presented to Pope Francis at the Vatican on Aug. 31, 2017.

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In an address, he said: “The statement ‘Between Jerusalem and Rome’ does not hide … the theological differences that exist between our faith traditions. All the same, it expresses a firm resolve to collaborate more closely, now and in the future.”

Concluding his letter, Koch wrote: “I trust that this response clarifies the theological background of the Holy Father’s words.”

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