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Jewish Roots of Christianity - A dialogue

[Mark Alder writes 15th April 1995 -:]

I became a Catholic from the Jewish faith at the Catholic University Chaplaincy, Gower Street, London in April 1969. Although many people in the past have tried to get me to become more conscious of my Jewish roots, I have resisted this up till now. The first contribution by Paul Hellyer (below) acted as a kind of "trigger" and this has lead to reactions by other Catholics whose opinions I respect. There are indications that this exchange of views is becoming fruitful and may lead to other things. I would ask you to bear in mind that what people have given below is a spontaneous contribution in the form of an e-mail message and not a specially prepared item. I am grateful to them for firstly "stepping out" and writing anything at all and also being willing for it to be circulated amongst a wider audience. I must add that all these people are writing as individuals, not as representing any particular groups.

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[From Paul Hellyer To: Mark Alder Date: Sun, 02 Apr 95]

There is an article in
Inside the Vatican (March ed.) that echoes my very thoughts at least on the Hebrew roots of the Faith. It is an interview with Sergio Quinzio in which he complains of the Hellenisation and Neo-Platonism that has gotten into the Church. He goes on to say other things that I am not sure that I agree with. But his main thesis is that the Church no longer preaches the Ressurection of the body. Which is absolutely true - there is much attention given to the salvation of the soul which tends to be a platonic type of soul and not sufficient to the body AND soul.

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[From: Paul Hellyer To: Mark Alder Date: Mon, 03 Apr 95 Subject: Quinzio]

I hope I have not caused you alarm at my views and those of Quinzio. The whole purpose of religion is to bring people to God to teach them how to love Him. The most perfect way, the most joyful and most loving way is the way given to us by Christ himself/by God Himself. In fact in a way Christianity is not a religion as such but a WAY with official religious externals through which we relate to our fellow believers and God in a common liturgy. From here on I will call the Catholic Faith the WAY. I have always had a great respect and even a love for what I percieve, from the outside, of the Jewish faith. I once consulted a Rabbi on a bit of theology and was a bit dissillusioned. But nevertheless I believe the Jews have a rich heritage to give to the world.

Jews are necessary to our world and the world owes them a debt for their immense faith in God and witness to the God who loves and saves. The Quinzio idea is that the faith quickly spread throughout the non Jewish world and absorbed Hellenism leaving its Jewish roots in the descendant. This I accept but I do not want to say that therefore the Church took an unauthentic turn. The WAY - the religion of Christ being God's way for all men in all places and all times ie. Catholic it was probably quite in order for the Bishops to accept Hellenistic ideas as a way of inculturation.

This structure of western thought served the Church well for hundreds of years. But it was only a structure a framework on which the Truths of Christianity were hung. I think what Quinzio is saying is that the structure has come into the foreground and has obscured the Truths of The WAY. This is probably the case among many theologians and clergy. But not all.

There are many who in spite of the prevailing mileiu, in spite of the way out ideas bandied around in Church circles, still love God, still love their fellow man, still believe in the ressurection still love and embrace Christ who leads the way through the WAY. Everything Christ did while on earth He did for us, He led the way. The mental anguish He suffered in the garden of Gethsemine was for us so that we when we suffer mental anguish we would have a friend - a companion, someone to lead the way through the suffering, God in His love gave us this. Mark I hope I have been of some help. Whatever distress the Church is suffering it is still the body of Christ on earth and we are His members and so we too must suffer. God loves us and God loves you. Pray, pray always.

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[From Fr. Tim Finigan To: Mark Alder Date: Tue, 4th April 95]

As to Hellenisation etc. When I learnt theology, the "
return to Jewish roots" was often used as an excuse to rubbish all Greek-derived philosophy on the grounds that it was not incarnational, too platonic etc. I am quite suspicious of all this because it went hand-in-hand with an outright rejection of "all the old textbook theology". Nothing was put in its place.

It could well be that Hellenistic philosophy was used in the providence of God to express Christian ideas accurately. We owe an enormous debt to Saint Augustine and his refutation of the Manichees. He did not do so by rejecting all Hellenistic philosophy.

I think an importantant need today is to stress the real distinction of matter and spirit. This is what is confused in Rahner's work and it is at the very heart of modernism. If you confuse matter and spirit, you end up making God the limits of my own horizon, i.e. me. God is not really distinct from his creation.

What is essential is to get back to the Jewish roots of the New Testament. These can shed an enormous amount of light on the teaching of Christ. Most especially, they throw his claim to divinity into very sharp relief. It becomes very clear why Jesus was crucified. I recommend the book
The Temple by Alfred Edersheim. It is fascinating.

And by the way, I have some Jewish blood too. My great grandmother on my mother's side! Shalom!

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[From: Fr. Tim Finigan to Mark Alder Date: Tue, 4th April 95]

I am quite happy for you to send my reply out around our "discussion group". It is a very interesting area of theology and could benefit from further thought. It is important for orthodox people to get together to discuss things sometimes because we so often have to spend time refuting errors and it is good to remember that there are some areas of genuine debate within the Church.

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[From Dr. Catherine Dalzell (Canada) To: Mark Alder Date: Thu, 6 Apr 95 Subject: Athens v.s. Jerusalem.]

Catherine's married name is Collins and is a mathematician who has written many articles on science, maths and theology. She has also written a book called "The New Journey to God.")

I am sorry that you seem to have been troubled by that whole Plato versus Scripture thing. That issue arises at least once in every generation. I largely agree with Fr. Finigan's analysis. I would make it stronger.Almost invariably, people who pursue that line of thinking have some sort of agenda. Usually they want to condemn scholasticism, by "proving" that it represents a deviation from the purity of our Jewish roots. Sometimes it is used to discredit Christianity entirely. "It got messed up by the Greeks and does not represent what Jesus wanted." That sort of thing.

Of course some people who worry about these things are genuinely worried, and want to know where the true Christianity lies. Well, as the saying goes, the Church can do what the Church has done. The Holy Spirit would not have allowed the Church to err that gravely for so long on a matter of such importance: namely, do the gentiles have any truth in them? The answer is "yes". Their path to God has largely been overgrown by weeds. It is a faint path, with many false trails, and largely
erased by time. But there is a path there. The Jews had a blazing trail (much good did it do them!), but the gentiles were not left without anything. They were left with nature, and some knew how to interpret it correctly.

That is the justification for co-opting the philosophy of the Greeks, and I believe it is still valid. It applies equally to all naturally true things, even when these are not explicitly covered by Scripture. It is because of this approach that Christianity is not a ghetto religion, but an apostolic one.

We convert not by making everyone Jewish (see St. Paul), but by rooting the Christian spirit in their hearts and their cultures. You might be helped by reading some of the Inter-testamental roots: the books of Wisdom, for example, or the book of Tobit. You might also want to glance at the writings of Philo of Alexandria. Classics of Western spirituality brought out an anthology of his writings. In Philo, and in the Inter-testamental works (which the RC's include in Sacred Scipture) you meet Jews who were familiar with the Greek heritage, and were trying to incorporate it. They did not reject it.

The first attempted proof for the existence of God is not in St. Paul, but in one of the Wisdom books. Tobit contains passages that discuss whether it is just for God to damn the wicked for ever. These books are not naive revelation in the old testament sense (if I can call it naive). There is reflection there, and the first stages of argument. Philo is even more explicit. There is some tremendous nonsense in Philo, but he is probably the first, before the Fathers of the Church, to interpret aspects of Plato's philosophy in light of Revelation, and to show that Plato's "One" could be understand as the God of Israel. Where Philo comes unstuck is that he refuses to grapple with the real issues here: how could the gentiles be so close to being right. If nature is a path to God, how does revelation differ? Why the prophets, if philosophy is good enough? Is philosophy good enough? He ducks all these issues by claiming that Plato had read Moses and plagiarized him. It is important for Philo's intense Jewish nationalism to deny that any truth could come from the gentiles. The Jews are the race of philosopher kings prophesied by Plato (or desired by him), and everything good in Plato must be of Jewish origin. But he made a good start.

So you can see that as soon as the Jews met with Greek philosophy, they admired it and tried to align it with their tradition. This began two hundred years before Christ. The Christians carried on this work, perhaps because it was a more pressing issue for them. A bigger question is why the Jews abandoned it. I think it is significant that the council in Jerusalem that "put a fence around the Torah" excluded those inter-testamental works that were in effect building a bridge with the Gentile world. The Rabbis who put a fence around the Torah also put a fence around the Jews. The Reformers also excluded those works, and they also excluded scholasticism. Is there a pattern here?

Other Articles by Catherine Dalzell

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[From Fr. Bernard Orchard OSB, Ealing Abbey, London W5 2DY.
Date: 20th April 1995]

[Fr. Orchard is the author of Born to Be King which is the fruit of a lifetime devoted to the study of the Sacred Scriptures and has an international reputation.]

Catherine Dalzell is right in seeing that the Jews who rejected Christ after his resurrection could logically continue only by denying the validity of the Spirit of God continuing to speak through the Deutero-Canonical Books eg. Wisdom, Sirach, Machabees etc. They put a fence round the torah and hence round their own thinking.

Jesus Christ for me, spoke to his Fellow-Jews through the Deutero-Canonical books and of course also through the Holy Spirit activating the Twelve Apostles of Jesus who with Paul, the "One born out of due time" interpreted the teachings of Jesus to the Greek-speaking world. The authentic Septuogent (the LXX) plus the NT Corpus are the fundamental sources determining the guidelines for the fusion of the Hebrew and Greek worlds and their philosophy.

The authentic line of development lies in the growing corpus of the dogmatic decisions of the 21 councils of the Church mediated to us through the Magisterium, the teaching authority active today and to the end of time. But Christ is himself the way, the truth and the life and the salvation for us all lies in the adherence to the WAY - ie my personal adherence to Christ by observing these guidelines and maintaining my own personal sacramental union with Christ through the Church's Liturgy.

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[From: Fr. Charis (aaz61@dial.pipex.com) to Mark Alder DATE: 19/07/96
Subject: Re: Copy of: Jewish/Catholic Culture Pt 1]

(Note Fr Charis was a priest in our Parish here in Enfield)

You may find a paper I gave to a "Parting of the Ways" seminar at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem in 1993 interesting; the parting refers to that between Jamnian/rabbinical Judaism and nascent Christianity.

My thesis is that present day Judaism and Christianity can both claim to be the legitimate heirs of the 'Temple tradition', or biblical religion of the Hebrews. They are the only ones of many 1st century CE Jewish sects to have survived the destruction of the Temple. They survived, because each in its own way brought 'holiness' out of the Temple - Pharisaism, to the Jewish home (Shabat, seder, ritual purity laws), and Christianity, to the community assembled (Body of Christ, eucharistic celebration).

In trying to arrive at a self understanding that would differentiate each from their respective rival sibling, they developed in opposition to each other. Jamnian Judaism looked inwards and built walls around what it considered to be legitimate Israel; it became less tolerant [cf. 18 Benedictions with vehement curses against the Nzrim (Nazarenes) and other minim (heretics)], and eventuallystopped proselytising.

Christianity, taking a lead from Barnabas and Paul, became universalist and believed itself to be the vehicle of God's salvation to all mankind.

This fundamental early choice had profound consequences on the development of their respective theologies. Both developed in a hellenistic/hellenising environment and Judaic theology has also used Greek philosophy (including a period of Jewish medieval scholasticism when it could and did hold debates with Christian scholars in Paris). Nevertheless, while using the scientific method of the time (philosophy) in its arguments, Judaism acquired a deep mistrust of all things Greek in its attempt to delegitimise the Nazarene sect (Christianity), who made exclusive use of the Greek version of the Scriptures.

Christianity went through a similar phase with arguments for (Justin, Athenagoras etc.) or against (Tertullian etc.) the use of pagan philosophy. The success of the former apologists both in arguing against the Jews and in proselytising gentiles finally tipped the balance in favour of expounding theology in philosophical terms.

Why this long preamble? Simply because I believe that the argument Athens vs. Jerusalem does not arise. We are as Christians the new Jerusalem, the heirs of Israel; if not, we are nothing but pagans. How we choose to express our faith is a different matter altogether. It happens that Christianity grew up in a part of the world where Greek culture and education was paramount. By borrowing the necessary tools it was able to:

1) construct a valid exposition of its system of beliefs;

2) use a method of developing, refining and defining them that had a consensus of acceptance among scholars; and

3) appropriate and perpetuate the learning of centuries of human history.

While the Holy Spirit obviously had a hand in this process, none of it can be considered as Revelation.

God's self revelation to us comes firmly from the Jewish tradition which we have inherited. The Incarnation in Jesus of Nazareth (however we may choose to make sense of it in human philosophical terms), is the fullness and completion of this process of God-revealing-himself-to-Man.

In human terms this is only contained in the Bible (and communicated, of course, in a non verbal way in the Sacraments). All other exposition of our faith always has to defer and refer to this standard, which is firmly rooted in the experience, not the understanding of God.

I will go as far as to say that, in further discerning the true meaning of Scripture not only do we have to get back to its Jewish roots (which, according to my understanding, we already share), but to look with humility and an open mind at post-Jamnian Jewish biblical/theological scholarship.

I get very despondent when I read comments such as Fr. Finnegan's : It could well be that Hellenistic philosophy was used in the providence of God to express Christian ideas accurately. Can we, or any human thought, express more accurately God's message than His Word made flesh?

Comparing Greek philosophy, medieval scholasticism, all kinds of theology, to the Word of God and finding the latter wanting (as Dr. Dalzell seems also to do) seems to change our religion from a revealed to a natural one - natural religion is called paganism. Natural religion is there, very much like our emotions, thoughts, experiences, to bring us to God in the right attitude (mysterium tremens etc.). We seek God; it is He who finds us and pulls us up.

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[From:David Moss TO: Mark Alder DATE: 20/07/96
RE: Response to contribution by Fr Charis Piccolomini]


Thanks for essay of Fr. Charis.

I reviewed it quickly and think I can agree with much that he says. The main thing that caught my eye, that I would have to disagree with, unless my first reading is wrong, is-:

"My thesis is that present day Judaism and Christianity can both
claim to be the legitimate heirs of the 'Temple tradition', or biblical religion of the Hebrews

The problem is his inclusion of the word "legitimate". If Judaism is the "legitimate" heir of Mosaic Judaism, then, as I understand the use of the word "legitimate", there is no need for Jews to become Christians; in fact, one might argue that it might even be wrong for Jews to become Christians.In fact, some do make that argument.

That it is an heir is not an issue. That God has used Rabbinical Judaism to preserve the People is something that I and Fr. Elias believe. But, that it was sanctioned by God, that is, intended by God to be the religion of the Jews flies in the face of the New Testament and our Faith as Catholics.

When, I have a few moments, I will read his essay more carefully. Then I
can send you my response. I can send Father my response or you can forward it on to him. I think he needs to read
Jewish Identity.


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[VARIOUS TOPICS BY David Moss as a contribution to the Compuserve Forum, Catholic Online, June 1996 .]

Shalom haMashiach (Peace of the Messiah):

Mark Alder has faxed me a little of the discussion on your forum, touching on evangelizing Jews and on a Jewish culture within the Church. I offer the following for yourconsideration.

Regarding evangelization Jesus was a Jew, as was Mary, the apostles and almost all of the first disciples recorded in the Gospels. Jesus came to the House of Israel, as their Messiah, their King and their God. Thus, the Gospel is first preached to the Jews, and all the discussions and arguments ought to be understood as taking place among members of a family.

As the Gospel was spread to the Gentiles (nations), many issues (between Jews and Gentiles) came to the fore which were not all satisfactorily resolved in those early years. By the fourth century, the last Jewish-Christian communities had disappeared and the Church had become sociologically Gentile, though in its essence, it remained Israel, the 'new' Israel.

The evangelization of the Jews over the next 17 centuries left much to be desired and was largely unsuccessful. It is not until the 18th century that Jews, in any kind of observable numbers, begin hearing the Gospel and accepting Jesus as their Messiah - some into various Protestant bodies and some into the Catholic Church. The 20th century has seen a noticeable increase in these.

The mission of the Church remains as it has always been, to preach the Gospel and baptize those who would receive their Saviour and God. This includes the Jews. It would be a new kind of anti-semitism to deny the Jews their Jewish Messiah, 'the way, the truth and the life,' and the Eucharist. The Catechism states: "Messiah's coming is suspended at every moment of history until His recognition by 'all Israel'." (par 674). The question is not whether the Church must proclaim Jesus to the Jews (along with everyone else), but how to do so.

St. Paul gives us a partial answer in Romans when he says: "I magnify my ministry in order to make my fellow Jews jealous, and thus save some of them." (11:13,14). If Jews were jealous of the way Christians lived or the way Christians treated them, evangelization would not be an issue. But any reading of Jewish history will not reveal much matter for jealousy.

Another part of the answer relates to one of the unresolved issues previously referred to. As Vatican II and the Catechism teach: the 'election' of the People Israel is an eternal election. This is believed and understood by all practicing Jews. Thus, from the perspective of the Jewish people, the greatest threat to their eternal election is any threat to their very survival. This issue arises from violence (e.g., the shoah) or from assimilation. Both violence and assimilation can destroy the People; both do diminish the People.

And it is the issue of assimilation within the Church that the Association of Hebrew Catholics (AHC) was formed to deal with.

Regarding a Jewish Catholic culture In general, one can recognize that there are many ethnic groups within the Church; e.g., Chinese Catholic organizations. These are supported by the Church as a pastoral response to the unique needs and gifts of these ethnic groups. Further, as the Gospel is spread throughout the world, the Church promotes 'inculturation', enabling the Gospel to be lived in accord with the legitimate values and traditions of the various cultures. In the case of Jews, there is neither a culture for the Gospel to be inculturated in nor has the Church developed any pastoral response to those Jews who have entered the Church.

The AHC (Association of Hebrew Catholics) has already begun, though in an extremely limited and inadequate way, to be that response. From the development of this response, a Hebrew Catholic culture can develop. A separate Rite is inappropriate to consider now since, historically, Rites have come out of an historic and living faith community. But a Hebrew Catholic culture, to have any lasting significance, must be based upon the historic reality of the People. And the historic reality of the People includes, most essentially, their 'election' by Almighty God.

The founder of the AHC, The Late Elias Friedman, OCD, believed as do I, that preservation of the election of the People Israel, in the Church, will correct an historic problem and satisfy a divine decree. Such correction would also remove a major obstacle to their 'hearing' of the Gospel.

I have probably written too much for this forum but not enough to explain
all the above. Those who are interested can request additional information and a sample copy of our publication,
The Hebrew Catholic using E-mail: ahc@trincomm.org

www: http://hebrewcatholic.org/

....or by writing to: AHC, PO Box 980280 Ypsilanti MI 48198-0280, U.S.. A small donation towards printing and mailing costs is appreciated, though not required.

In Yeshua and Miriam,

David Moss, President.

Contents Copyright ©; Mark Alder and Named Authors 2000

Version: 8th April 2004

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