I love opinionated non-PC people. This blog is to vent my opinions on life, the universe and everything. Which is 42 which in gematria is "My Heart" (LBY) according to Rabbi Abulafia. The Divine Heart is the centre of everything.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Council of Florence and Jewish Observance: A Hebrew Catholic Opinion


Anti-Jewish Catholics often refer to the Papal Bull from the Council of Florence and quote sections out of the historical context and situation of the document. I thought my readers would like to hear part of my response to one such writer:

"...You quote in your different posts on this blog the same old misunderstanding of the Council of Florence and you elevate any statements that can be read in an anti-Jewish manner to the status of infalliblity while ignoring the continuing infallible magisterium of the Church and Pope today.

The whole negative theology on the Jews and Judaism followed by many Catholics in the past has been recognised by the magisterium in Vatican II and in the magisterial documents since, to have been a false theological path that in some ways helped lead us to the horrors of the Shoah. Of course those before Vatican II may have held those interpretations in good faith but today with the further magisterial development of doctrine those who hold to such theology are not thinking with the mind of the Church.
Coptic Pope and Bishops

I might add that not everything in an Ecumenical Council's documents are infallible teaching- much of it is either pastoral or disciplinary. For example it is obviously infallible doctrine when the Council of Florence affirms that to believe that one needs to keep particular Jewish observances and customs to be saved is a mortal sin. I and all Catholics would adhere to this. However the pastoral meaning of that for the Copts whom the Council is addressing is another reality. If we read the document out of context and in a hyper-literal way we would assume that no Catholic may be circumcised under pain of mortal sin. However we know that this was not the intention of the Church as after this time the Filippino people who practiced circumcision became Catholics and continued circumcising their sons to this day. What was the difference between the Copts of that day and the Filippinos- some Copts were claiming that one had to be circumcisied to be a member of the Church (thus seeming to make an observance into a requirement for salvation) whereas for the Filippino people they practiced circumcision as a initiation rite for a boy into manhood which was a cultural custom with some spiritual significance. The Church at the time of Florence obviously thought that asking the Copts (those who came in to union with Rome) to stop circumcising their sons would be the best pastoral policy to protect that infallible doctrine that one does not require circumcision to be saved. In another age with another situation or group the Church will adapt its pastoral policy to suit that time and place. Pastoral policies may be bad or good but they are certainly not infallible.

In recent years the Church practiced a very bad pastoral policy in regard to the Tridentine Latin Mass by almost suppressing it and many clerics persecuting those who held it dear. In time the Church has come to realise this bad pastoral approach and has sought to implement a better pastoral approach in this regard. So it is with the issues relating to Jews and Judaism and Jews in the Church."


The passage they refer to is from "Cantate Domino" which is the Bull on the reunion of the Copts. "Session 11—4 February 1442[Bull of Union with the Copts]:
It [The Holy Roman Church] firmly believes, professes and teaches that the legal prescriptions of the old Testament or the Mosaic law, which are divided into ceremonies, holy sacrifices and sacraments, because they were instituted to signify something in the future, although they were adequate for the divine cult of that age, once our lord Jesus Christ who was signified by them had come, came to an end and the sacraments of the new Testament had their beginning. Whoever, after the passion, places his hope in the legal prescriptions and submits himself to them as necessary for salvation and as if faith in Christ without them could not save, sins mortally. It does not deny that from Christ's passion until the promulgation of the gospel they could have been retained, provided they were in no way believed to be necessary for salvation. But it asserts that after the promulgation of the gospel they cannot be observed without loss of eternal salvation. Therefore it denounces all who after that time observe circumcision, the sabbath and other legal prescriptions as strangers to the faith of Christ and unable to share in eternal salvation, unless they recoil at some time from these errors. Therefore it strictly orders all who glory in the name of Christian, not to practise circumcision either before or after baptism, since whether or not they place their hope in it, it cannot possibly be observed without loss of eternal salvation..."
This bull written in the triumphalist language of the Middle Ages may be difficult for people to understand. However it clearly is referring here to those who believe it is necessary for salvation to observe Jewish observances such as circumcision, Sabbath etc. It makes an exception for those first Christians until the church clarified the issue at the Council of Jerusalem. Those early Christians who believed that such practices were necessary for salvation even after the Passion did not commit a mortal sin, just as those Catholics who did not accept the Immaculate Conception before it was promulgation as a dogma, did not commit a mortal sin but after 1854 they do. One must also realise that this bull is not adressed to Jewish Catholics but to Gentiles who were believed by the Roman Church representatives to be practicing Jewish customs as a means to salvation. That the Roman officials may have misunderstood the Coptic practice is highly likely in an era of many prejudices and thus given the Pope and Council a false impression of the coptic practice and its reasons.


The document then refers to a pastoral policy as a result of this desire of the Church to save souls from mortal sin. It asks these Christians to refrain from making these practices into part of the Christian initiation rites prior to or after baptism whether they believe it is necessary for salvation or not. The Church considered it a priority to proclaim that salvation is found in the Messiah not particular Jewish observances. Pope Benedict XIV stated that the Church could bind all the Jewish observances on Gentile Catholics under the pain of mortal sin if she so desired for a new covenant purpose- however he stated that the Church would never do this with circumcision for the Gentiles. The issue of the place of circumcision in the life of Jewish Catholics (which in the early Church was called the Church of the Circumcision)has never been infallibly defined. That the Jewish branch of the Church continued with Jewish observances including circumcision demonstrates that while they certainly from the time of the Council of Jerusalem could not believe they were necessary for salvation but they certainly believed in their value as a means of sanctification for the Jewish soul. St Justin Martyr in the middle of the second century certainly still considered Jewishly observant Judeo-Catholics to be his fellow believers which was a hundred years after the Council of Jerusalem.



Even in regard to the Copts it would seem that the rather narrow pastoral policy (based on sincere intentions) put forward to the Copts regarding circumcision may have played a part in the failure of the full reunion of the Copts with Rome. After all the Egyptians had practiced circumcision since ancient times. The Church learnt from this rigid pastoral stance and did not follow it when the evanglisation to the Phillippines began. Today the issue of Circumcision among the Copts and Ethiopan Orthodox churches does not seem to be an issue for Ecumenical dialogue. I might add that many English-speaking Catholics in America, Australia and New Zealand are circumcised by the parents as babies and I do not think the Catholic Church today considers all these Catholic parents as heretics commiting mortal sin which would be the conclusion for a too hyperliteral reading of Cantate Domino.

The Bull states:"...Whoever, after the passion, places his hope in the legal prescriptions and submits himself to them as necessary for salvation and as if faith in Christ without them could not save, sins mortally...". Thus we see that the Church annunciates three requirements for the practice of Jewish observances to be a mortal sin. Firstly if one hopes to be saved by them rather than by the grace of God. Secondly if he obligates himself to them as necessary for salvation and thirdly believing that faith in Christ is not enough to save a soul. I know of no Hebrew Catholic who observes Jewish customs with these intentions. Those who observe them do it as a means of sanctification appropriate for those who are Jewish in background. It in no way is concerned with salvation or being saved. Just as one does not attain salvation by praying the Rosary or wearing the scapular but one certainly grows in holiness by such practices and their practice may lead one to place himself in the grace of God. So it is with Jewish prayer observances- at their best they are vessels of light leading us into the infinite Light of the Grace of God. This Grace is free and unearnable, available to Jew and Gentile, circumcised and uncircumcised, male and female, cleric and lay. In this way Jesus is not only our Salvation but he is our Sanctification- for all our Jewish and Catholic observances are done in, with and through Jesus who is the Divine Light. The Jewish Catholic however does not observe the Jewish customs and observances with the intentions appropriate before the passion but he observes them with the New Covenant intention focused on the Life, Death and Resurrection of the Messiah Jesus. Nor do we observe as some kind of evangelisation ploy to proselytize religious Jews but because these now Messianic and Marian observances resonate with our souls and provide us fitting vessels to grow in holiness.

Note: There are many conflicting opinions on the status of 'Cantate Domino' among Catholics. Some believe that it is a Papal Bull- others a Conciliar Decree of the Council. Its status as infallible is also questioned by some as it seems to be expressing the theological understanding of the Roman Church on these issues which are in conflict with certain Coptic beliefs. While this text touches on infallible truths -their explications do not share in this infalliblity but are the theological understanding of that day which are fallible and open to further study, development and theological reflection and speculation. The status of this document for the Church ultimately relies on the Magisterium to discern. Until it does so, all Catholics may freely express their opinions on this topic. When it does so, I along with all faithful Catholics will accept that discernment.