A moral high point of John Paul's career

Clifford Longley had one of the more engaging views of John Paul’s papacy. He asks difficult questions about the state of the western church, but looks at some of the more profound moves he made in terms of reconciliation with other religions, most notbly Judaism:

…the reality is that he pushed the frontiers of Catholic teaching with regard to the Jews beyond the limits most thought possible. He has of course reiterated the teaching of the second Vatican council that the Jews cannot be blamed of the death of Christ, and that anti-semitism is a grave sin. But he has gone much further, coming close to declaring Judaism an open channel to God, a valid parallel to Catholicism. As a result the Catholic church has officially stopped evangelising the Jews. For them – and them alone, frankly – conversion is no longer deemed necessary for salvation.

This revolution was encapsulated in the few words of the famous prayer which he posted into a niche in the Western Wall in Jerusalem during his millennium year visit to Israel. This is the most solemn and serious method pious Jews use to communicate with their God. By his action, Pope was declaring that the method works. By his words, he was undoing 2,000 years of Christian supersessionism. No matter what generations of churchmen had written and said and the clear impression in the New Testament to the contrary, the ancient Jewish covenant with God was still in force. The prayer simply stated: “God of our fathers, you chose Abraham and his descendants to bring your name to the nations. We are deeply saddened by the behaviour of those who in the course of history have caused these children of yours to suffer, and asking your forgiveness we wish to commit ourselves to genuine brotherhood with the people of the covenant.” This was the high moral moment of his reign. If all else is forgotten, this deserves to be remembered in a thousand years.

  • Rethinking Unionism


    I agree the reaching out to Jews was one of the Pope’s towering achievements but the New Testament is also pretty clear on God not abandoning his covenant with the Jews.

  • Mrs Tilton


    I agree that JP2 earned very high marks for his outreach to the Jews and his efforts to undo centuries of antisemitism. (And I am baffled by his occasional moves in the other direction, like beatifying that earlier pope who had a Jewish child stolen from his parents and forcibly raised a catholic, or his canoodling with the disgraced Kurt Waldheim. I can only imagine that, on those occasions, he was tossing a politically unavoidable bone to his less enlightened followers.)

    I agree also that the NT is very clear that God’s covenant with the Jews still runs. (It’s significant that Paul is very insistent on this, even though he otherwise has very harsh things to say about his former co-religionists.) But it has to be said that many Christians, over many centuries, thought otherwise. There is a technical term for this but I am not a theologian and do not know it — but many Christian thinkers, catholic and protestant alike, taught that although God’s covenant with ‘his people’ was eternal, the Jews had been replaced as that people by the Christian church because the Jews, ungrateful lot that they are, had refused to recognise a certain itinerant rabbi as the messiah.

    I think it’s pretty clear that JP2 did not agree with that reading. There’s a lot about the man that I disliked. But despite the occasional own-goal, his approach to the Jews deserves nothing but praise. (And it’s even more important, and more praiseworthy, when viewed against, and contrasted to, the acts and policies of his predecessors in this regard. JP2 was seen as a theological conservative, and so he was. In this respect, though, he was a radical and genuine reformer of his church.)