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  • Response to My Respondents
  • Gavin D'Costa

Introduction

I am most grateful to Fr. Richard Schenk and Professors Gabriel Reynolds and Eduardo Echeverria for their comments on my book Vatican II: Catholic Doctrines on Jews and Muslims and for their wider reflections. I have learnt much and will continue to learn from their writings. In this article I will briefly summarize the main arguments of my book (part 1) before responding, in turn, to the critical questions they raise (part 2). Summarizing the whole will help when dealing with the parts to which they have responded. Readers can of course skip part 1.

Brief Summary of Vatican II: Catholic Doctrines on Jews and Muslims

My book seeks to return to the Council documents to find out what they teach in terms of doctrines regarding other religions in general (ch. 2), and in particular the Jewish people (ch. 3) and Muslims (ch. 4). To achieve this, I address two basic questions first (ch. 1): I inspect the hermeneutical debate surrounding the reception of the Council and I clarify what counts as doctrine—including what grades of authority are attached, if any, to such "doctrines." I do not concern myself with pastoral orientation and practical guidance, only with doctrine, however important the former. Echeverria carefully outlines my discussion of the hermeneutical debates with clarity and grounds them in their wider context. He also outlines the three basic trajectories of reception that loosely map onto admittedly porous labels: "liberal," "traditionalist," and "reforming conservative." [End Page 309]

The first ("liberals") are primarily historically oriented, and Fr. Schenk kindly points out that, while I have put many questions to this group, I also learn deeply from them. More importantly, he rightly questions whether this is the best way of labeling them (as "historicists"), as they have implicit theological presuppositions that drive their position. They are not simply historically oriented. Some among their number emphasize discontinuity, novelty, and deep changes within Catholic sensibilities. I am in agreement with some of their findings, and much of their historical research is invaluable. However, others assert doctrinal discontinuity, and this is an important claim that I find problematic. This is Fr. Schenk's point about their theological presuppositions. I try to show that some of their key claims about discontinuity can be challenged on historical grounds. Briefly, for example, there are the teachings of Florence, in the Bull of Union with the Copts (1442), that at face value seem to condemn "Jews," along with heretics and schismatics and pagans, to the fires of hell. "It [the Church] firmly believes, professes and preaches that all those who are outside the catholic church, not only pagans but also Jews or heretics and schismatics, cannot share in eternal life and will go into the everlasting fire which was prepared for the devil and his angels, unless they are joined to the catholic church before the end of their lives."1 I argue that, with historical sensitivity, we can see that those to whom Florence refers as "Jews" do not correspond to those to whom Vatican II refers as "Jews." The latter are invincibly ignorant; the former are not. Thus the former, at Florence, were (probably wrongly) assumed to be guilty of knowing and rejecting the truth of the Gospel, thus explaining their terrifying and sad final destination. This point negates neither Florence's authority nor its proper object of doctrinal teaching—that salvation comes through Christ and his Church and is not available to those who knowingly reject this truth in their minds and hearts. Thus, regarding the "Jews," each Council envisages them quite differently, but without real contradiction or [End Page 310] doctrinal discontinuity: they can be construed entirely negatively at Florence; they can be construed very positively at Vatican II. My argument against historicists in this instance is that it is not a discontinuity of doctrine, but a difference related to a contingent judgment: whether all Jews are culpable of willfully rejecting the truth of Christ when they continue to remain Jews. I name this approach "historicist" because it is my belief that their claims can be defeated on historicist grounds.

The other major claim regarding doctrinal reversal is related...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2470-5861
Print ISSN
1542-7315
Pages
pp. 309-329
Launched on MUSE
2017-04-06
Open Access
No
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