The Spirituality of the Church Means No Need for a White Paper on Israel

If you wonder why Roman Catholics in the public eye are a little sensitive about the review of the Edgardo Mortara memoir, it may have something do with the Vatican’s not-so-great history with European Jews or the state of Israel. Massimo Faggioli reminded readers of Commonweal of that vexed past:

Rome looks at the anniversary of the State of Israel with a complex perspective very different from that of Evangelical Protestants in the United States. In less than fifty years, the Vatican has moved from opposing the Zionist movement, to a de facto recognition of the State of Israel, to a de iure recognition. In 1947, the Vatican supported UN Resolution 181, which called for the “internationalization” of Jerusalem. In the encyclicals In multiplicibus curis (1948) and Redemptoris nostra (1949), Pius XII expressed his wish that the holy places have “an international character” and appealed for justice for the Palestinian refugees. In its May 15, 1948 issue, the official newspaper of the Holy See, L’Osservatore Romano, wrote that “modern Zionism is not the true heir to the Israel of the Bible, but a secular state…. Therefore the Holy Land and its sacred places belong to Christianity, which is the true Israel.” The description of Christianity as the “true Israel” (verus Israel) is a reminder that it wasn’t until decades after the Shoah that the church fully recognized the connections between supersessionism, theological anti-Judaism, and anti-Semitism.

Vatican II helped reconcile Catholicism and Judaism. But the relationship between the Vatican and the State of Israel remained complicated. During his trip to the Holy Land in Jordan and Israel in January 1964, Paul VI was very careful never to utter the word “Israel,” thus avoiding even the suggestion of recognition. The questions of who should control the Holy Land and whether to recognize the State of Israel were not addressed by Vatican II’s Nostra aetate, whose drafting was closely scrutinized not only by bishops, theologians, and the Vatican Secretariat of State, but also by diplomats, spies, and Arab and Jewish observers. Vatican II ended before the Six Day War of 1967 and the subsequent occupation of Palestinian territories, which permanently changed the geo-political situation in the Middle East. From then on, Israel was in firm possession of the whole of the Holy Land west of the Jordan River, including all the Christian holy places. This led the Vatican to modify its position in a pragmatic way. In an address to cardinals in December 1967, Paul VI called for a “special statute, internationally guaranteed” for Jerusalem and the Holy Places (rather than internationalization). We cannot know what Vatican II would have said if the occupation of the Palestinian territories and the capture of Jordanian-controlled East Jerusalem (and the Old City) had taken place before or during the council. But we do know that Arab states and Arab Catholic bishops and patriarchs at Vatican II were strongly opposed to anything that sounded like a recognition of the State of Israel.


But that is the sort of corner into which you can paint yourself when you are a church with temporal power (that is, the Papal States) and with assumptions that you should be at the “running things” table.

A spiritual as opposed to a political church doesn’t have such worries. Add some amillennialism and you can even free yourself from the evangelical Protestant habit of trying to determine the date of the Lord’s return by monitoring developments in the Middle East. Like the Confession of Faith says (chapter seven):

5. This covenant was differently administered in the time of the law, and in the time of the gospel: under the law, it was administered by promises, prophecies, sacrifices, circumcision, the paschal lamb, and other types and ordinances delivered to the people of the Jews, all foresignifying Christ to come; which were, for that time, sufficient and efficacious, through the operation of the Spirit, to instruct and build up the elect in faith in the promised Messiah, by whom they had full remission of sins, and eternal salvation; and is called the old testament.

6. Under the gospel, when Christ, the substance, was exhibited, the ordinances in which this covenant is dispensed are the preaching of the Word, and the administration of the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper: which, though fewer in number, and administered with more simplicity, and less outward glory, yet, in them, it is held forth in more fullness, evidence and spiritual efficacy, to all nations, both Jews and Gentiles; and is called the new testament. There are not therefore two covenants of grace, differing in substance, but one and the same, under various dispensations.

Now that the coming of the kingdom of grace is no longer bound up with a Jewish state, people are free to support Israel as an outpost of democracy without a whiff of immanentizing the eschaton.

18 thoughts on “The Spirituality of the Church Means No Need for a White Paper on Israel

  1. Certainly the perspective of the thousands of Palestinian Catholics have something to do with the sympathies of the pope. And isn’t the voice of the people of your church more important than political correctness?

    “A spiritual as opposed to a political church doesn’t have such worries.”

    Unless, that is, the Israeli Army is occupying your church activity building and using it as a barracks, in preparation to use it as a Jewish settlement outpost. We have ties with this Reformed church. The building was built in 1945 by the Independent Board of Presbyterian Missions.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. high, not sure that Palestinian Christians (not sure the Pope is worried about Reformed ones) disproves the point. Israel is still, despite the Palestinians, neither the holy nor the profane land.


  3. mcMark, well, Calvin didn’t have a Secretary of State. And once the churches in Europe got over Constantinianism, they abandoned (mainly) foreign policy. The Vatican is still a sovereign state.


  4. Then again, a spiritual church can hide their heads in the sand when social injustices abound. That results in silent complicity with those who practice social injustices.


  5. For people who have the courage to the do the research, they find that the Jews are no friends historically, or in the present day, to Christians. Just read the Talmud.


  6. Is it your place to talk about which people should talk about politics?

    It’s not politics when you write about why people should not write about politics?

    Trump is a watered in the name of the Trinity Christian who is making Israel great again. He’s not a clergyman and the Jerusalem embassy is the new status quo, so it would be wrong to try to find some alternative eschaton here and now. Because the Gaza Strip is not the holy land, there is every reason to side with the Israeli magistrates against those who defy God’s ordained authority….

    Lyman Stone—The first question… is one’s social position within the three estates of the Kingdom of Man …The rebels were not democratic reformers, but apocalyptic radicals seeking the institution of heaven-on-earth…. Their campaign was more Jonestown than Yorktown….My research on the 2016 election shows that Trump’s victory was probably obtained by capturing a big swing among American Lutherans. Is it the case that Lutheran theology favors brute political realism, mercilessness in state operations, perhaps even docility in the face of tyranny?

    There are times when the national crisis is so obviously wicked (or righteous) that the minister will feel compelled to say something. For example, a declaration of war…

    Bozeman, “Inductive and Deductive Polities”—-.Having supported from the beginning a version of Protestantism supportive of property consciousness, the Old School leadership had incentive enough for worry about social instability… Old School contributions to social analysis may be viewed as a sustained attempt to defend the inherited social structure


  7. The problem that both the RCC and the EEEeeeeevangelicals in the US have is the propensity to confuse the modern secular state of Israel with the the theocracy of Old Covenant Israel. The modern state of Israel is just like any other state today: Canada, Thailand, Azerbaijan, Burkina Faso. Catholics should have no problem recognizing the secular state of Israel, realizing that such a state does not correspond whatsoever to the spiritual Israel, which is indeed the universal Church.


  8. Curt, “Then again, a spiritual church can hide their heads in the sand when social injustices abound.”

    I can’t tell. Is that a sneer or a grin of respect?


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