A Response to a Critique of "All in the Family"

A Response to Robert Sungenis'

Critique of our Lay Witness Article

 

By Michael Forrest and David Palm

 

Are the Jewish People "Family"?

Sibling Jealousy and Racism?

Did We Make Serious Charges Against the Church Fathers?

Is Bob Just Like the Church Fathers?

Will There be a Special, Future Conversion of the Jews?

Bob's Continued Misuse of "Supersessionism"

Is Robert Sungenis an Extreme Supersessionist?

Conclusion

Endnotes


As Bob Sungenis was given a directive by his bishop to stop writing and speaking about all Jewish issues, we're somewhat reluctant to respond at all, let alone to publish a point-by-point rebuttal of his fifty-three page essay about our Lay Witness article, "All in the Family:  Christians, Jews and God".[1]  And candidly, we don't see sufficient justification for such a comprehensive reply.  However, in this modest venue, we thought it perhaps worth making this limited response for the sake of anyone who may be confused by Bob's  "critique".  We also thought it worth taking the opportunity to somewhat expand upon a few points that we were unable to in Lay Witness due to space restrictions. 

We suggest that you read our article first and see what, if anything, concerns you: "All in the Family: Christians, Jews, and God". Then, if you still decide to read Bob's article, carefully re-read our article again afterwards and consider whether it actually says and conveys what Bob claims that it does.  Alternatively, we can save you the time and trouble—we neither wrote nor believe what Bob ascribed to us.

As he has with his own bishop and others in regard to Jewish issues, Bob mischaracterized what we wrote and jumped to numerous false conclusions (see here and here for past examples).  The primary objections that he listed at the beginning of his essay and then spent fifty-three pages expounding are straw men.  In short, we didn't write, imply, nor do we believe that:

 

1) Jews who do not believe in Jesus Christ are within the "Christian family simply because they are Jews",

 

2) "the salvation of the Jews at large is guaranteed…although Jews can presently have a more direct relationship with God by converting to Christianity",

 

3) "all of us should be following God's lead by treating the Jews as a divinely privileged people who deserve more care, concern and protection than we give to non-Jews"

 

4) "Jews, simply for being Jewish, should be considered as part of the Christian family and be entitled to all the divine blessings and status that come with that privileged position"

 

5) "the Jews are special today because they will be special tomorrow".

 

As such, if those central parts of his "critique" of our article trouble you, you need not read any further.

We have also already anticipated and answered most of what Bob is presenting now as "new" criticisms.  But he has repeatedly stated that he doesn't read what we write. (see for example here, here, here, and here.)  From the identity of the "Olive Tree" to the "Conversion of the Jews", to "supersessionism" and more, we've written in some detail about these issues and Bob's mishandling of them.  In fact, even in regard to "All in the Family" – which Bob purports to have read – he sometimes gives his readers the false impression he has caught a crucial point that was missed.  For example, Bob criticized us for missing something we actually covered in an extensive footnote (see footnote 24) and then went on to make the same point we had already made.  

But now, putting aside all the matters on which Bob misrepresents us, or fails to note when we have already anticipated his criticisms, there are a few areas which we thought it was worthwhile to address.

 

Are the Jewish People "Family"?

Bob is at least correct that we consider the Jewish people – Israel according to the flesh – to be in a certain sense "family".  This disturbs him.  Yet, even SSPX bishop Bernard Fellay has publicly stated that, "the Jews are our elder brothers."   The Vatican's guidelines for implementing Nostra Aetate §4 speak of "our Jewish brothers", "sound relations between Catholics and their Jewish brothers", while noting "the spiritual bonds and historical links binding the Church to Judaism."

John Paul II referred to the Jewish people as "our dearly beloved brothers", our "elder brothers in the faith of Abraham" and even stated that "the Jewish religion is not ‘extrinsic' to us, but in a certain way is ‘intrinsic' to our own religion" and "with Judaism, therefore, we have a relationship which we do not have with any other religion." (link)

Recently, Pope Benedict XVI repeatedly used familial language in relation to the Jewish people.  He referred to them as "these children of yours [God's]" while reflecting on our "genuine brotherhood with [the Jewish people]", "our common roots.. and the rich spiritual patrimony that we share", "our common heritage" and "the solidarity which binds the Church to the Jewish people ‘at the level of their spiritual identity'"  He also repudiated "the scourge of…anti-Judaism."

In stark contrast, Bob teaches his followers that "the Jews are godless" and that they have "infected our Catholic Church."  He also teaches that "the infection of Judaism" is our primary "enemy."  (see here and here.)  Sadly, it seems amply clear why Bob is disturbed when the Jewish people are described as "family."

 

Sibling Jealousy and Racism?

Based upon this article and many others, it seems clear that Bob harbors misplaced feelings of sibling jealousy that are driving his theology. (For a detailed look at how Bob's anti-Jewish bias is negatively impacting his theology, please read "Sungenis on Romans 11").   For example, he characterizes the idea that Jews are still "chosen" in this revealing manner:

 

the Jews, only because they are Jews, still retain a special status with God and receive a special love from Him that he does not give to the rest of the human race. (Critique, p. 3)

He continues on, claiming that if we are correct that the Jewish people are still "chosen" and they will eventually be restored as a people to the fullness of the faith alongside the Gentiles:

 

then all of us should be following God's lead by treating the Jews as a divinely privileged people who deserve more care, concern and protection than we give to non-Jews. Jews, simply for being Jewish, should be considered as part of the Christian family and be entitled to all the divine blessings and status that come with that privileged position. (Ibid., p. 3)

The jealousy and/or resentment evident in his choice of words is clear.  Bob then goes on to charge that if the Jews are no longer chosen and will never be restored as a people to the fullness of the faith alongside the Gentiles (as Bob believes):

 

then [Forrest and Palm] are promoting one of the most serious cases of racism and heresy that the Church has known in a long time.  (Ibid., p. 3)

But the fact is that, although Bob seems unaware of it, even his own negatively biased theology implicitly acknowledges a special, on-going relationship between the Jewish people and God: see e.g. here and here.  Be that as it may, it is plain that his real objection is to the idea that the Jewish people have a special positive relationship with God because he has very actively and publicly promoted the idea that they have a special negative relationship with Him (click here and here).  Apparently, he sees nothing "racist" about that.

As Ben Douglass previously noted, Bob openly acknowledged that God had a "special relationship" with Israel in the Old Testament.[2]  Therefore, if such a "special relationship" between God and the Jewish people is "racist" now, as Bob charges, then it was racist then.

Bob's complaint against the appearance of divine "favoritism" runs into another problem.  While God gives sufficient grace to everyone, He gives differing amounts of actual graces.  If Bob is to be consistent, this discrepancy -  or apparent "favoritism" -  shouldn't be possible.  Yet, God has singled out certain individuals and even entire nations (such as Saul /St. Paul and the Aztecs/Guadalupe or Fatima/Portugal-Russia) – whether under the Old or the New Covenant – for "special" treatment.  However, we aren't aware of any charges of "racism" or "favoritism" from Bob in regard to these instances.  His ire seems to be reserved solely for the Jewish people.   

The bottom line is, as any good father knows, it is possible to love all of one's children equally, yet simultaneously have a unique bond with each individual child based upon the unique experiences with, characteristics of, and roles played by each child.  As we wrote in our article, the Jewish people are God's "first-born" (cf. Ex. 4:22).  It was through them that His Son was made flesh and brought salvation to the world.  The Second Person of the Holy Trinity will forever be a Jew.  The Church is built on twelve Jewish men who will sit in judgment with the Jewish Messiah.  These are present and enduring realities – they are not merely "in the past." We listed other similar facts about the Jewish people that make them special and unique.  But none of these are reason for sibling jealousy.

Some time ago, we wrote, "There is a special relationship, a history there [between God and Israel according to the flesh] that cannot be erased. Of course, there is no reason for gentile jealousy as this relationship is inferior (in the theological sense) to that of a baptized Catholic, but it is real and persistent, nonetheless. This relationship that 'earthly Israel' has with God is, of course, a shadow of the ultimate relationship which is consummated in Catholic baptism, when the natural branch is grafted back onto its own tree."  (Family Dynamics ).

 

Did We Make Serious Charges Against the Church Fathers?

Bob falsely accused us of making "serious charges against the Church Fathers" because we wrote of "some...extremely combative and even offensive rhetoric occasionally employed in the writings of a few of the early Church Fathers, an early Jewish prayer of ‘malediction' against Jewish Christians, and certain segments in the Jewish Talmud."

But note the multiple limiting words we employed like "some", "occasionally" and "few" – all of which Bob ignored.  The fact is that our intention was to prescind from making a negative judgment upon the Fathers of the Church in this statement because "fault" was not the issue we were interested in addressing. This becomes clear when the sentence above is read in its full context.

Our express point was that the conflict between believers in Christ and non-believers was intense, bi-lateral and that it existed from early on.  In the first sentence of the section in question, we stated:  

 

"Since the days of Cain and Abel, a tragic pattern of fraternal conflict and strife has been repeated throughout salvation history. Unfortunately, the relationship between the children of Israel who do not accept Jesus as the Messiah (rabbinic Jews) and those children of Israel who do accept Him (Christians) has been no exception to the familial rule."

And then, after stating that both "sides" had persecuted one another at different points in history, we noted that some "extremely combative" and even "offensive" early writings from both Jews and Christians provided evidence of these conflicts (the sentence that Bob mischaracterized).  As to precisely what each "side" wrote that was "offensive" and what was only "extremely combative" we didn't take a position at all.  We also intentionally prescinded from making any judgment as to whether Jews or Christians were right to be offended by what the others said about them.  St. Paul and even Jesus Christ Himself certainly said things that were "extremely combative" and even "offensive."  Yet, as Christians, we believe their statements were also appropriate and just. 

Unfortunately, Bob made our article "about him" by injecting his own personal Jewish conflicts and strife into the discussion while defending St. John Chrysostom for two pages against charges of "anti-Semitism" that we never made.  In fact, neither the word "anti-Semitism" nor the name "St. John Chrysostom" appears in our article at all. 

Bob then claimed that we "ignored" Jewish combativeness evident in the book of Acts and in the Talmud.   This false accusation is particularly difficult to excuse because the book of Acts (both Acts 8:1–3 and Acts 12) was cited in the very first paragraph of our article as proof of Jewish aggression against early Christians.  And soon after, in the same sentence in which we mentioned the Church Fathers by the way, we singled out none other than – the Talmud.

Again, the fact is that we intentionally prescinded from expressly and specifically judging any of the documents in that paragraph because "fault" was not the issue we were interested in addressing there. We were interested in establishing that "conflict and strife" has existed between Christians and Jews from very early on, while not specifically addressing the issue of "blame" in regard to the supporting evidence.  It's that simple.

 

Is Bob Just Like the Church Fathers?

However, Bob's false accusations do raise an issue that deserves some scrutiny.  In the process of completely defending St. John Chrysostom's writings about Jews, Bob insisted that he has merely treated Jews in the same way as St. Chrysostom and has received the same unjust response for his efforts:

 

[Chyrsostom] was merely defending the truth of the Christian faith against Jews who were trying to overturn it and/or infiltrate it with Judaism, much the same as I do today and earn the same epithets as Chrysostom. (Critique, p. 5)

Bob has similarly equated himself with the Church Fathers on several other occasions.  For instance, he has previously written that, "I am doing nothing more than what the Church Fathers did" and then he went so far as to claim that the Fathers of the Church had actually said "much worse" against Jews than he ever has. 

The problem?

Back in July 2007, after being corrected by Bishop Rhoades for his attacks on the Jewish people, Bob also publicly admitted that he had "crossed the line into inappropriate language and accusations" and had violated charity by failing to write about Jewish issues with a "human and Christian spirit", both in his "content" and "tone."  Furthermore, he acknowledged that his "fault" had "caused confusion regarding what is and is not the authentic position of the Catholic Church towards the Jewish people" (see here.)  Certainly, these are significant failings.

As such, if he has merely been doing the same things (even far less, actually) that St. Chrysostom and other Church Fathers have done in regard to the Jewish people (as he also claims) and there is nothing problematic about any of it  – then why did he publicly admit such significant faults back in 2007?  Regardless of the historical context, it is always seriously wrong to violate charity by failing to write with a "human and Christian spirit", to "cross the line into inappropriate language and accusations", and to "cause confusion" about the Church's teaching as a result, is it not?  As such, assuming he was being truthful back in July, 2007, then by saying the Church Fathers have actually done "much worse" against Jews than he has, Bob has unwittingly condemned the Church Fathers in stronger terms than he falsely accused us of doing.

Bob also failed to distinguish between a subjective pastoral matter (in this case, how to approach and interact with Jews) and an objective doctrinal one.  It is a novel idea to appeal to a "consensus" of the Church Fathers regarding how to speak about and address Jewish issues – as Bob did.  The concept of "patristic consensus" relates to establishing objective, doctrinal teaching.  Here, we're reminded of apologists who invoke St. Jerome's reputation for irascibility as though it provides some kind of blanket, infallible patristic justification for their own rudeness and condescension. 

And while Bob expresses shock at the thought that a Catholic today might dare to disagree with any Church Father's subjective pastoral approach to Jewish issues, he has dismissed and otherwise ridiculed their express views on doctrinal matters such as the "Conversion of the Jews."  Ironically, Bob has denigrated none other than St. John Chrysostom's command of the Greek language because he disagreed with Chrysostom's doctrinal statements on the "Conversion of the Jews." (Recall, St. Chrysostom is a Doctor of the Church).  This is all the more remarkable when one considers that Chrysostom's native tongue was Greek.  And Bob has even gone so far as to impugn St. Augustine's honesty with charges of "exegetical duplicity" in regard to this same issue. (Click here for some rather remarkable examples.)  As such, it seems that Bob's great "respect" and "concern" for the Fathers – St. John Chrysostom in particular – is rather selective.

 

Will There be a Special, Future Conversion of the Jews?

Bob continues to misrepresent and distort the ecclesial evidence for a special, large-scale restoration of the Jewish people to the fullness of the faith.  He claims that, "the Church has never made even one official doctrinal statement endorsing any of it." (Critique, p. 34) This is false, as demonstrated in Sungenis on Romans 11.  As that article demonstrates, while Bob has attempted to obfuscate the teaching of the Catechism of the Catholic Church on this point (CCC §674) by distorting the English translation, the original Latin renders Bob's interpretation completely untenable.  The Catechism clearly echoes the overwhelming ecclesial witness we have brought forth on the Conversion of the Jews.

Bob then complained at length about our scriptural citations relating to the Conversion of the Jews as though, with no justification, we just pulled them out of thin air.  But he overlooked the fact that we merely compiled these Scriptural citations from Fathers, Doctors, Popes, saints and/or renowned scholars of the Church.  Our interest is simply in accurately and fairly reflecting the teaching of the Church.  It is not and has never been in advancing our own novelties and personal agenda in regard to the Jewish people.  (Click here and here for an extensive compilation of citations on the Conversion of the Jews.)

But despite the impressive number and authority of the witnesses who held it, Bob does all he can to make the expectation of an unusual, future conversion of the Jewish people to Christ look ridiculous.  An example is his exaggerated emphasis on the phrase "en masse" – apparently attempting to elicit an extreme image of some kind of almost instantaneous conversion of every last Jewish person alive in the end times.  He has adopted a similar approach in relation to St. Thomas Aquinas' use of the word "universal" as it pertains to the "Conversion of the Jews" (see here.)  He has also introduced the specious notion that a special conversion of the Jewish people would require God to "coerce" Jews to believe (essentially violating their free will.)  These arguments are all straw men.

Strangely, Bob has previously insisted "God does not do" large-scale conversions when Jews were the subject:

 

(Sungenis): "A universal conversion would simply be totally adverse to everything God has ever done…Ever since the beginning of time, there have only been a percentage of the world's people who have sought and remained with the Lord. God simply does not do such universal conversions… He does not coerce people to believe in Him on massive scales…" (link)

Yet, he has insisted on the exact opposite when Jews were not the subject:

 

(Sungenis): "Naturally, if a major portion of the Russian people and government converted and joined the Catholic Church, the "errors" of Russia would be no more…The truth is that if the Church had mentioned ‘Russia' in the 1984 consecration, we would have seen millions of Russians embrace the Catholic faith……True followers of Fatima are waiting for the time when Russia will mightily embrace Catholic Christianity….but that vision is too grand for the liberals and modernists who infest the Vatican apparatus…According to them, miraculous conversions are a pipe dream."  (Sungenis Responds to Zugibe) [3]

It is also odd that in his "critique" of our article, he claimed that the "Conversion of the Jews" was morally objectionable because it "inevitably consigns millions of other Jews to the horrors of disbelief who lived prior to the en masse conversion."  Apparently, Bob forgot that according to his theology, virtually all Jews right up until the very end of time - without reprieve - are consigned to the "horrors of disbelief" (see below, "Is Robert Sungenis an Extreme Supersessionist?").   As such, it's difficult to take his argument about an alleged breach of "fairness" seriously.

And Bob also seems to have forgotten about the conversion of the entire Aztec people after the apparition of Our Lady of Guadalupe and his own words regarding the conversion of the Russian people in light of Fatima (above).  Why is he not similarly concerned about God's "fairness" to the Aztecs and Russians who lived "pre-miraculous conversion"?  Why is there consistently a double standard when Jews are involved?

We have stated all along that the ecclesial evidence supports an unusual, large-scale conversion of the Jewish people to Christ in the last days.  That's it.  Exactly how and over what period of time this plays out is an open question.  It may well simply play out in the same way the miraculous, large-scale conversion of the Aztec people occurred after the apparition of Our Lady of Guadalupe or in the way the prophesied conversion of Russia might occur in light of Fatima.  Certainly, neither these nor any other instances of super-abundant grace require God to "coerce" peoples to convert.

The central point remains: there is an overwhelming, broad and consistent witness in the Church that the Jewish people will experience an unusual, large-scale restoration to the fullness of the faith in the last days.  They will not, as Bob would have it, remain actively hardened by God and estranged from Him until the bitter end. [4]  Unfortunately, Bob's bias against our Jewish brethren becomes sadly clear in statements such as this:

 

God will become active in keeping them in unbelief by blinding them to the truth.  That is the kind of God we have; a very dynamic God...and the Jews will die in their unbelief (link.) 

Bob has effectively chosen to elevate his own personal interpretation of Scripture and reject the teaching of the Fathers, Doctors, Popes, saints and respected scholars of the Church. [5]  This is part and parcel of what we have described as a "theology of prejudice."

 

Bob's Continued Misuse of "Supersessionism"

While Bob briefly addressed the matter, he did not actually resolve the problems we documented pertaining to the term "supersessionism" (see here and here - scroll down to "Supersessionism, Redux").  "Supersessionism" is a very important term for Bob because he's essentially adopted it as an absolute litmus test of orthodoxy, including the orthodoxy of his own bishop.  (You can read about Bishop Rhoades and Bob's false charges against him here.)  Essentially, after trying out one or two other attempted "proofs" that fell flat, his entire rationale for disobeying Bishop Rhoades' directive to cease writing about all Jewish issues and for publicly accusing His Excellency of heresy has come to rest on the alleged use of the term "supersessionism" by one of two priests associated with His Excellency to varying degrees (Bob seems very confused about the priest's actual identity - see endnote #1 below).  So, while we were not specifically addressing our article to Bob, we can understand why he felt that it was very important to address this particular point and to try to defend his extremely combative (and inappropriate) use of this term.

In response to our statement that the term "supersessionism" is not of Catholic origin and appears in no magisterial texts, Bob used some rhetorical sleight of hand – effectively switching the word "supersedes" for "supersessionism" – and then stated that it "has indeed been used in Catholic magisterial texts."   On page sixteen of his critique Bob went so far as to claim that "the Church has consistently used the term [supersessionism]".  This is flatly false and Bob is invited to provide a single example where "the Church" has ever used the term "supersessionism".  

Bob overlooked the fact that we used the term "supersedes" ourselves in the article and that we quoted the entire footnote of the one magisterial text (not "texts") in which "supersedes" appears (footnote 2 of Redemptoris Mater).  But, more importantly, the fact remains that the actual term "supersessionism" is not of Catholic origin and it appears in no magisterial texts – exactly as we stated.  Nothing Bob presented alters these facts.  [6]

We believe that Bob – a man who has spent a great deal of time fashioning technical grammatical arguments in Greek – can understand the difference between "supersede" and "supersessionism" as readily as he understands the difference between "evolve" and "evolutionism."  The "isms" convey a full-blown philosophy (or theology) that is not necessarily conveyed by the simple verb form.  For example, one can easily speak of creatures evolving without at all intending to embrace the various forms of full-blown evolutionism (or Darwinism –  see here.)  Are we talking about behavioral evolution or genetic evolution? Micro-evolution or macro-evolution? Theistic evolution or atheistic?  The quasi-religious philosophy of evolutionism or the more limited science of evolution? 

The same is true of "supersedes" vs. "supersessionism."  "Supersessionism" is not a magisterial term and it has no established, Catholic definition.  Not unlike "proselytism," it's a loaded term that can and does carry very different connotations, implications and nuances (for example, see here and here.  Note: we do not intend to completely endorse either article).  As such – and as we have said in the past (see here) – it was completely inappropriate for Bob to effectively appoint himself as an über-bishop – publicly judging and condemning his own bishop and others based on his definition of this ill-defined, non-Catholic term.

 

Is Robert Sungenis an Extreme Supersessionist?

Certainly Bob considers himself a supersessionist, at least according to his definition.  But he has denied being an extreme supersessionist (or a "crude" supersessionist, as Cardinal Dulles has termed it).   However, while our article was not directed to him, he is certainly one to whom certain parts of our article apply – including most of the section on extreme supersessionism.  Extreme supersessionism, according to the definition we provided, is the belief that:

 

"God is essentially finished with the Jews as a people…The Jews, as Jews, no longer possess any special relationship with God; they play no further special role in God's design for man's salvation; and the Church has entirely replaced the role of the Jewish people in every way in regard to the Scriptural promises and eschatology related to Israel."

To this, Bob wrote:  "who are these ‘extreme supersessionists' and where have they taught that God is finished with the Jewish people?" (Critique, p. 16)

Where?  For starters, earlier in the very same article, he wrote:

 

"As a national, ethnic and religious entity, it can safely be said that God, indeed, reject [sic] the Jews. Legally or covenantally, He replaced them with the Catholic Church…As such, all the national, ethnic, and religious privileges and distinctions the Jews had in the Old Testament were terminated…" (Critique, pp. 8-9)

And repeating our definition almost verbatim, Bob also wrote:

 

 "On a national and ethnic basis, God is done with Israel." (Point/Counterpoint, p. 7)


and


"As a national or ethnic entity, God, indeed, has repudiated the Jews...in regards to national or ethnic aspects, the Jews have, indeed been rejected."  (Q&A 231)


And, yet again:

               "[The Scriptural prophecies and promises regarding Israel] have already been fulfilled. Israel's time is over.  If they are saved, they join the Church.  That is the only 'natural' place God is dealing with."   (Dialogue, p. 7) [7]

We invite the reader to also compare the following statements with the definition we provided of "extreme supersessionism" and note how closely it fits Bob's views:

 

R. Sungenis:  "the whole tenor of the New Testament is that God is finally rejecting the Jews (except for a remnant)...God is giving up on the Jews...In fact, God will become active in keeping them in unbelief by blinding them to the truth...That is the kind of God we have; a very dynamic God...and the Jews will die in the unbelief" (link.)

 

R. Sungenis:  "Again, it is all based on the false premise that God still has some special relationship with the Jews…The Jews are no different than any other group of people on the face of the earth. There are no ‘special relationships' with God based on one's ethnic background or heritage"(link).

 

"the ‘hardening' God has cast upon the Jews at large for their general unbelief will remain until the end of time…"  (CASB 2, p. 139)

 

"The unbelief of the Jews, by God's design, will continue right up until the end, and only a remnant out of Jewry will be saved." (Article).

In these and other places, Bob has made it very plain that, according to him, God is "finished" with the Jews as an ethnic group, that they have no further unique role in salvation history and that they have been rejected by Him and entirely replaced.  God does not have an interest in Jews as a people – His interest is merely in the few individual Jews who have not been irrevocably hardened by Him.  According to Bob, the Jewish people have been utterly rejected as a whole and will remain hardened and estranged from God until the very end.  This almost precisely mirrors our definition of extreme supersessionism.   (We suggest reading "Internal Contradictions in Sungenis' Theology?".)   As we already noted in our article (and in stark contrast to Bob's views) the Holy Father has written:

            Q:  God has not, then, retracted his word that Israel is the Chosen People?

            A:  No, because he is faithful.  Of course, we can see that Israel still has some way to go.  As Christians, we believe that they will in the end be together with us in Christ.  They they are not simply done with..." [8]

            (Additional citations may be found by clicking here.)


"Revoked" ? 

Another aspect of extreme supersessionism that we identified was the tendency to "emphasize scriptural and magisterial terms that convey discontinuity between the Mosaic covenant and the New Covenant (like ‘revoked' and ‘abolished')."  In what appears to be a misguided and overzealous attempt to divorce the Church from its Jewish heritage and Jewish influence as much as possible and/or an attempt to portray the enactment of the New Covenant as some sort of divine punishment against  the Jewish people (see here), Bob has consistently done exactly this.  Anyone who has followed his writings is well aware of how he repeatedly emphasizes stark, absolute words like "revoked" and "abolished." In fact, even his self-proclaimed manifesto on this issue is entitled, "The Old Covenant: Revoked or Not Revoked." Oddly, Bob has never brought forward a single example where the Church or Scripture uses the precise word he repeatedly insists upon - "revoked" - to describe the status of the Old Covenant. [9]

One difficulty with the word "revoked" is that it tends to imply a complete break, and this is not the dynamic between the Old and New Covenants.  The concept of a complete break undermines the organic continuity of salvation history.  Perhaps some of the problem arises because there are distinct aspects to the Old Covenant that must be acknowledged. There is the law, the ceremonies, the sacrificial system, the relationship, etc.  And then there is an issue revolving around what is meant, exactly, by "abolished" or "revoked"? For instance, the Old Covenant (Mosaic) sacrificial system was certainly abolished in the specific form under which it was originally practiced. The Jewish temple no longer even exists, so that much is obvious. Yet, as Cardinal Dulles has also noted, "the priesthood, the temple, and the sacrifices are not extinct; they survive in a super-eminent way in Christ and the Church." (see here.) There is a continuity, an organic connection between the Old and the New. And so, in that sense, words like "revoked" are incomplete and potentially misleading by themselves.  They tend to imply an absolute break or annihilation.

The Holy Father has written: 

 

"With regard to the issue of the nature of the covenant, it is important to note that the Last Supper sees itself as making a covenant: it is the prolongation of the Sinai covenant, which is not abrogated, but renewed. (Many Religions, One Covenant, p. 62)

And Pope Pius IX and most of the Fathers of the First Vatican Council prayed in their Postulatum that:

 

"the Israelites hasten to recognize the Messiah, our Savior Jesus Christ, truly promised to Abraham and announced by Moses; thus completing and crowning, not changing, the Mosaic religion."

The comparison to a license may also be helpful. If the state gives you a driver's permit and then later gives you a full driver's license, one would not say that your permit was "revoked."  The word "revoked" typically carries a negative connotation of discontinuity or even punishment - for drunk driving, non-payment or some other kind of serious infraction.  One would more accurately say that your permit was "replaced", "superseded" or even "fulfilled" by your new driver's license.  Like the Mosaic Covenant, a permit bestows a temporary, limited authority that anticipates a future, fuller authority - a license (or the New Covenant in Christ).  Similarly, if you have a state driver's license and the federal government decides to issue national driver's licenses with broader scope and authority, one would not say that your and everyone else's state licenses were "revoked", either. 

Perhaps this is why the Church seems to generally prefer speaking in terms of "fulfillment" – because it conveys organic continuity in salvation history rather than rupture. Even words like "replace" or "supersede" are more complete or accurate in that they do not have such a strong implication of discontinuity/rupture. As the Vatican document Guidelines and Suggestions for Implementing the Conciliar Declaration "Nostra Aetate" (n. 4) notes, there are elements of continuity as well as some "original" elements to be found in the New Covenant. But the Church emphasizes the organic continuity between the covenants. Conversely, Bob is insistent upon the most absolute and stark term that conveys discontinuity, again, in what appears to be a misguided and overzealous attempt to divorce the Church from its Jewish heritage and influence and/or an attempt to portray the enactment of the New Covenant as some sort of divine punishment against  the Jewish people (see here)

God's love and concern for the Jewish people – the relationship – is also something that continues under and was not "revoked" by the commencement of the New Covenant. God chose Israel before the swearing of the Mosaic covenant; therefore, Israel's election is not dependent upon the status of that covenant.  The election or "chosen-ness" of Israel is rooted in the Abrahamic covenant.  It continued on through the Mosaic covenant and finally into the New and eternal Covenant in Christ.[10]

God's ongoing concern for the Jews as a people – Israel according to the flesh – is "because of the fathers" of Israel (Romans 11:28-29).   The Church has affirmed this truth in Lumen Gentium 16 and Nostra Aetate 4.  God's concern for fleshly Israel is manifested in various ways today. Bob has tried to deny this teaching by invoking his own idiosyncratic exegesis, but he is plainly wrong (view the evidence here.)  Still, that relationship is not salvific by itself; it finds its ultimate fulfillment in and through Jesus Christ and His Church. God has not given the Jewish people their own path to salvation. Like all men, they need the Jewish Messiah and His Church.

We also listed these last two identifying markers for extreme supersessionism:

 

"evidenc[ing] a significant double standard by judging Jews much more harshly for not expressly entering the Church than they do our Protestant brethren"

and

 

"demand[ing] that Jews enter the Church, only to then treat them with suspicion and hostility once they do so."


In light of Bob's consistently contentious and extremely uncharitable treatment of Jewish converts to the faith (for example: click here and here), he clearly fits these markers as well. [11]

As such, while we have encountered more than a few extreme supersessionists, Bob is certainly a prominent example.

 

Conclusion

We hope that this information is helpful to anyone who may have been confused by Bob's "critique" of our article.  It is our sincere hope that responsible, faithful Catholics will continue to explore and deepen our understanding of the nature of the relationship among Catholics, Jews and God.  It's a fascinating and important topic.  Unfortunately, Bob's strong anti-Jewish bias continues to seriously undermine his ability to discuss these matters fairly and to make reliably solid, positive contributions that faithfully mirror and/or harmonize with the teaching of the Church.

We also hope that Bob will obey the sound and reasonable directive given him by Bishop Rhoades and that he will stop creating scandal by making false and slanderous accusations against His Excellency (these are documented here.)  We also call on Bob to stop creating scandal by promoting Holocaust denial/revisionism at his website and by falsely implying that the Holy Father is sympathetic to it as well (see here.)  Finally, we hope that Bob will forthrightly retract and apologize for the many problematic statements about Jewish issues that are listed here (several of which are relatively recent.)  Taking these important steps would certainly help Bob to eventually become a more positive and reliable contributor in regard to theological matters relating to the Jewish people. 

However, as matters stand at this point, readers should remain very cautious and highly skeptical of his exegetical and doctrinal claims when Jews are involved in any way.  (We suggest reading Sungenis on Romans 11 for a fresh, detailed examination of some of Bob's "theological" argumentation against the Jewish people).  Unfortunately, as we have seen too often, one must essentially choose between the Church and Bob Sungenis.

 

3/1/10

Endnotes



[1] For the same reason, we are not interested in Bob's challenge to a "public, oral and recorded debate."  We would also note here that Bob and his colleagues have again completely changed their story about his interaction with Bishop Rhoades.  Bob first stated that he was given a "directive" by Bishop Rhoades to stop writing and speaking about all Jewish issues.  Very soon after, he stated that he was forced to comply under penalty of "interdict."  Then, the very next day, he insisted he was merely "asked."  Next, he wrote an article indicating that he was "ordered."  Then his good friend, Fr. Harrison, wrote an extended article insisting that Bob was given a mere "request".  Now, Bob's friend and mentor, E. Michael Jones, has written a very "interesting" fund-raising letter in which (among other things) he states that Bishop Rhoades "told Robert Sungenis he wasn't allowed to talk about the Jews." ( E. Michael Jones' Fundraising Letter - this letter is worth reading for what it reveals about Jones' and Sungenis' mindset.)

Additionally, Sungenis and Jones repeatedly contradict themselves as to the individual who supposedly made a specific statement opposing "supersessionism" during Sungenis' meeting at the Diocese of Harrisburg in July, 2007.  In January, 2008, Sungenis accused Fr. King (of the Diocese of Harrisburg) of making the statement (here).  In October, 2008, he accused Fr. Massa (of the USCCB -  here).  In September/October, 2009, he was back to accusing Fr. King (here).  In January, 2010, Jones accused Fr. Massa (here).  [Note: After this article was published, it came to our attention that Sungenis has once again returned to publicly accusing Fr. King (here) in October, 2010].  

Sungenis: "During the meeting, the vicar general, Fr. William King, JCD, made a remark to the effect that, as Catholics, 'we don't believe in supersessionism any longer.'" (Jan. 2008)  

Sungenis: "Or, we might have expected an apology from Fr. James Massa, executive director of the USCCB Secretariat of Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs who, in his meeting with me and Tom Herron in July 2007, stated that 'no one was a supersessionist any more.'" (Oct. 2008)

Sungenis:  "In our meeting of July 29, 2007, at the bishop's office in Harrisburg, the vicar general, Fr. William King, said to me and Mr. Herron:  'we don't believe in supersessionism any longer.'" (Sept./Oct. 2009)

Jones: "During their meeting with Bishop Rhoades' representatives, Bob Sungenis and the late Tom Herron listened as Father Massa, the bishops' Catholic-Jewish dialogue guy, explained, 'no one believes in supercessionism anymore.'" (Jan. 2010)

Sungenis:  "During the meeting with Fr. King, I discovered that both he and Bishop Rhoades held to the heresy of antisupersessionism - the view that the Jews still retained legal possession of the Mosaic covenant." (Oct. 2010)

Sungenis has yet to explain why he praised Fr. King, Fr. Massa and Bishop Rhoades so profusely and unreservedly only a few days after this very meeting (see here) if he knew right then and there that they were pushing what he considers to be such a dangerous heresy on "unsuspecting Catholics".  Read the following links to review his statements and learn the real reason he turned on these men:  here and here.

As such, the one consistent thread seems to be Sungenis' and Jones' employment of the Jewish bogeyman to elicit donations.  (See:  Fr. Harrison and the Diocese of Harrisburg and Fr. Harrison and RSATJ)

[2]  Sungenis: "The reference to Israel as God's 'firstborn' [Ex 4:22-23]… refers…to the special relationship between God and his chosen people." http://www.catholicintl.com/epologetics/dialogs/marysaints/svend-heos4.htm.

[3] Although, as we have previously noted, Bob seems to forget that he has argued that in Russia one finds "the greatest concentration of Jewish revolutionary activity in all history." (Click here)  As such, ironically, a conversion of Russia would necessarily entail a large-scale conversion of the Jewish people, according to Bob's own views.

[4] As we noted in "All in the Family", this in no way suggests that today's Jewish people have no need of Christ and His Church.  This is a classic, Catholic both/and:  the Gospel must be preached to all men, Jew and Gentile alike.  Some individual Jews will continue to respond, coming to Christ and His Church until that time at which the Jewish people as a whole will experience a large-scale restoration to the fullness of the faith. 

[5] Bob has made the oxymoronic statement the Church has "unofficially declared" that the Antichrist will be Jewish and that this was also the teaching of "the Fathers" – based on relatively little evidence.   Perhaps most significantly, however, Bob has never even begun to exegete the three Scriptural passages most commonly used to support that contention (Jer 8:16, Rev. 7:57 and Genesis 49:16-17) – particularly odd considering that Scriptural exegesis is supposed to be his area of greatest expertise.  However, if one reviews these passages, it becomes clear why Bob has never made the attempt - any connection between the Jewish people and Antichrist is far from obvious.   Yet, in stark contrast, Bob has relied almost exclusively on his idiosyncratic, personal exegesis of Romans 11 to deny the overwhelming consensus of Fathers, Saints, Medievals, Popes and scholars on the "Conversion of the Jews".

[6] We would also note that Redemptoris Mater was originally written in Latin.  The Latin word that has been translated into English as "supersedes" from footnote #2 is excedat, from the verb excedere, which means "to exceed, leave or pass beyond."  "To supersede" is not given in any Latin/English dictionary we have found as a specific translation for "excedere".  Regardless, the accepted English meaning/translation of "excedere" comports well with our use of the term "supersedes" but does not comport well with Bob's extreme use of it.  For more examples illustrating the various meanings of "supersessionism", see herehere, here and here.

[7] This was from a private, informal discussion I (Michael Forrest) had with Bob back in 2005 about a special, future conversion of the Jewish people.  I sent him a personal email and he chose to publish our discussion without my knowledge or consent.  He is now presenting it as though it was some kind of formal debate between us intended for public consumption.  It was not.  Much fuller documentation on the future conversion of the Jewish people may be found here and here.   

[8] Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger; God and the World, Ignatius Press, pg. 150.

[9] Bob was challenged by one of his patrons on this point and failed to bring forth any example where the Church has used the precise word "revoked" in regard to the Old Covenant.  (Bellarmine Q & A  227 and 231)

[10]

God called Israel "when Israel was a child," and this calling was situated within the context of Israel's bondage to Egypt. Before Israel had departed from Egypt, they were God's son and had received their calling from Him. The Exodus story confirms this: "Thus says the LORD, Israel is my first-born son." (Ex. 4:22) Elsewhere, Isaiah speaks in similar terms: "The LORD called me from the womb, from the body of my mother he named my name ... he said to me, 'You are my servant, Israel, in whom I will be glorified'" (Is. 49:1,3).

The calling of Israel is thus established as a historical fact stretching back at least to Israel's time in Egypt prior to the Exodus, and, judging by Isaiah's words, even back to the time when Israel was still in "the womb" and "the body of my mother," that is, before Israel was even a nation. A later passage in Isaiah sheds further light upon the matter, identifying for us who was Israel's "mother":

Hearken to me, you who pursue deliverance, you who seek the LORD; look to the rock from which you were hewn, and to the quarry from which you were digged. Look to Abraham your father and to Sarah who bore you; for when he was but one I called him, and I blessed him and made him many. (Is. 51:1-2)

The calling of Israel, then, is rooted in the calling of Abraham, and this calling of Abraham is envisaged by Isaiah as extending to Israel, in a sense, while Israel was still "in the body" of "Sarah who bore you." In other words, the gracious election of Israel by God did not take place in a vacuum, but is founded upon a much earlier calling: the calling of Abraham, and the subsequent covenant oaths sworn by God to him. This accords well with what St. Paul said in Romans 11: "as regards election they are beloved for the sake of their forefathers." The same thing is stated by Moses in the book of Deuteronomy: "he loved your fathers and chose their descendants after them, and brought you out of Egypt with his own presence" (Dt. 4:37)

The important point to notice about the chronology of Israel's calling is the fact that it took place before their deliverance from Egypt, which is to say, before the swearing of the Covenant at Sinai. Thus the calling and election of Israel by God is not based upon the Covenant made at Sinai; the calling and election of Israel came long before Sinai, and is based upon God's gracious choice, as both St. Paul and Deuteronomy again affirm: "It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the LORD set his love upon you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples; but it is because the LORD loves you, and is keeping the oath which he swore to your fathers" (Dt. 7:7), and "when Rebecca had conceived children [Jacob/Israel and Esau] by one man ... though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad, in order that God's purpose of election might continue ... because of his call, she was told, 'The elder will serve the younger.'" (Rom. 9:10-12)

If the calling and election of Israel was based on God's gracious choice, and upon His faithfulness to the oath He swore to Abraham, then it would be incorrect to say that the "calling of God" was based upon Israel's fidelity to the Sinai Covenant; indeed, as pointed out above, the calling took place prior to that Covenant, and is therefore quite independent of it" (Jacob Michael, Irrevocable Calling and Gifts: A Reading of Romans 11:29).


In response to Jacob Michael, Bob did not dispute that the calling/election of Israel pre-dated the Mosaic covenant.  However, he argued that circumcision - which is part of the Abrahamic Covenant -  was also dispensed with.  The necessity of circumcision was indeed dispensed with and we know this by the explicit teaching of the Scriptures and the Magisterium (Acts 15, Gal 6:12-15, Council of Florence, etc.).  However, Bob brought forth no real evidence that the election of the Jewish people was also dispensed with.  To the contrary, as we have documented, the teaching of Scripture and the magisterium is that the election of the Jewish people as a whole, God's special love and concern for them as a people (not merely those who believe in Christ) continues on under the New Covenant (Lumen Gentium 16,  Nostra Aetate 4, Romans 11:28-29, see also Sungenis on Romans 11).  Paragraph 1963 of the Catechism also addresses the "chosen people" (a phrase which it only uses in reference to the Jewish people) in the present tense.  Of course, it should be noted that this in no way contravenes or undermines the fact that the Church is spiritual "Israel" and that it is the means by which God mediates grace and salvation to all men.

[11]  After this article was published, Bob posted the following at his website:

Sungenis:  "We all need to realize, and never sweep under the rug in the name of 'ecumenism' that the core of being Jewish is a rejection of Jesus Christ.  According to Jesus, if one rejects him, then he also rejects the Father...That means if a Jew rejects Jesus then he does not know or serve God."(Click here)

Bob's double standard is plain.  One will search in vain to find the following, parallel sweeping generalization from him in regard to Protestants:  "We all need to realize, and never sweep under the rug in the name of 'ecumenism' that the core of being Protestant is a rejection of the Pope and the Roman Catholic Church, which in turn is a rejection of Jesus Christ.  According to Jesus, if one rejects the Church, then he rejects Christ, and if he rejects Christ then he also rejects the Father (see Jesus' discourse in Luke 10:16).  That means if a Protestant rejects the Pope and Church, then he does not know or serve God."

Similarly, Bob has illustrated his double standard by writing:

"What I actually said was that various ideological Jews have 'infected' the Catholic Church with erroneous religious and political views.  I used the term 'infected' as I would with any person or group that heavily influences another with damaging concepts.  For example, I would say the same about Protestants and their beliefs upon the Catholic Church..." (Click here)

First, Bob did not use the limiting words "various ideological Jews" or "erroneous religious and political views".  These are new distinctions/limitations he is trying to retroactively apply to his original statement (which may be viewed by clicking here:  Question #33).  Bob broad-brushed the entire Jewish people ("the Jewish element"), with no distinctions, as having "infected our Catholic Church" and he also referred to the entire religion of Judaism as an "infection".  (For examples where Bob has previously used this tactic of re-casting and soft-pedaling past offensive statements in order to exonerate himself , click here.)  Second, Bob seems oblivious to the fact that it is completely inappropriate and offensive to use such inflammatory and denigrating language when referring to any ethnic group, let alone the Jewish people.  The Nazis described the Jewish people, their culture and religion as a parasitic infection (click here).  The Church has condemned this "language of contempt."  Third, it is telling that while Bob claims that he "would" say such a thing about Protestants and other such groups, one will search in vain to find any example where he has actually done so (to clarify - this is certainly not to suggest that we would be happy if Bob actually began referring to Protestants and Muslims as a whole with such offensive and contemptuous language.)  Over almost two decades debating and arguing with Protestants, he has never once referred to Protestants, Muslims or any other entire group for that matter as having "infected" the Church (as he did in regard to Jews) or to Protestantism, Islam or any other entire religion as an "infection" and "number one enemy" (as he did in regard to Judaism).  Bob's "explanation" here is nothing more than an obvious "c-y-a" after having been caught yet again using deeply offensive and bigoted language in regard to the Jewish people.