Friday, February 5, 2010

The Paradox of the Jews

One sense I'm getting as I network with more disaffected traditionalists through this blog...is that there is a great interest among this crowd with Christianity's Jewish roots, and even an appreciation and great respect for post-Temple Judaism, even if as a foil against which to compare our own practices and thus gain valuable perspective.

Of course, in "mainstream" traditionalist circles...you get a lot of thinly-veiled or not-so-veiled anti-Semitism that plays into the whole weird neo-fascist far-right thing that can go on there.

This, in turn, is usually just a knee-jerk reaction against the virtual adulation over the Jews and hyper-political-correctness surrounding them that seems to have taken root in neoconservative Catholicism (ala the unfortunate USCCB document "Covenant and Mission"). Which is itself a form of over-compensation for free-floating guilt over past wrongs that usually aren't attributable to anyone alive today (Catholics do love their guilt...)

A complicated historical/political situation all around, to be sure. But of course. For the Church's relationship to the Jews (by which I mean Her absolute theological/mystical relationship) is complicated and very nuanced, but for that very reason there has been a tragic history of misunderstandings and oversimplifications in one direction or another.

One of my favorite medieval themes is that of Ecclesia and Synagoga, especially flanking a Crucifixion (and especially if Ecclesia is catching the Precious Blood in a chalice):


People on both sides are bound to take what I'm going to say controversially, but I think the symbolism of Israel in Scripture is just beautiful. It is in many ways interchangeable with that of the Church. The Church and the Synagogue are mystical principles in history, concretely and visibly subsisting in the Catholic Church and the "perfidious" Jews, and yet the two principles are not opposed in an absolute duality as some have liked to imagine, rather it is much more nuanced.

Von Balthasar wrote about the Church as "casta meretrix" (chaste whore) and the long history of that theme, which an article at The Oak Tree has summarized quite well.

Though some may find the belief that the continued existence of [non-Christian] Jews is a "flesh witness" to be offensive, it is actually a beautiful idea that gets to the heart of the Church's relationship with the Synagogue, and deconstructs the duality which some may see as implied by such images as that above, but which really collapses as one delves into it.

In the Scriptures, the people of Israel form a microcosm of all humanity. They are the typological specific cast from which is portrayed the universal symbolism. And not just humanity, but fallen humanity.

There has been much "apologizing" in the past few decades over the narrative of the Passion. In all missalettes at the Novus Ordo you will now find the following footnote on Good Friday, drawn from Nostra Aetate: "...what happened in His passion cannot be charged against all the Jews, without distinction, then alive, nor against the Jews of today."

And I think we all understand what they're trying to get at; they are trying (too late) to mitigate against a certain reductionism that would crudely attribute personal guilt to the Jews of today. Now, some attempts accomplish this better than others. Some well-meaning people, for example, trying to diffuse such attitudes, have the bizarre tendency to merely try to shift the blame to the Romans...which may be historically arguable, but sends an odd message; are they saying that attributing guilt to a group (as opposed to individuals) is okay, but that we've merely got the wrong group? That it would have been okay to treat Romans the same way Jews have been treated throughout history? "We sinners killed Jesus," is, however, certainly true.

Yet on a symbolic level, the Jews killing Christ and "we sinners" killing Christ...aren't necessarily opposed ideas. Who are the Jews in Scripture if not a type of fallen humanity? In the Passion narrative especially, aren't we confronted with the wonderful mystery that Synagoga IS Ecclesia? And that Sinner and Saint...are the same person? I fear we lose the richness of this "collapsing symbolism," this typological tension, if we simply try to reduce the Jews to being of no special theological or mystical concern for Christians (or worse, an "equally valid" parallel covenant).

This goes back to what I was saying about the psychology of sin and guilt. The great tragedy, but a tragedy I think everyone needs to go through, is this internal compartmentalization of "the bad self" from "the good self" and the eventually realization, through a death and rebirth, that there is really only one self, and though it can get better and better...imagining perfection is only an eschatological reality.

In the image above, we see Christ, dying [-to-Self] to rise again, dying between the perfectly pure Ecclesia and the harlot Synagoga. And yet, those two are the same; the Church is simply the Synagogue Redeemed. His Bride, in the individual soul, is sinful man made saint by grace, is sinful humanity divinized by the Holy Spirit. And even that marital duality is eventually integrated, as She and He are revealed to not be absolutely separate either, but merely the Head and the Body of same mystical reality, a Trinitarian reality, that if we model it in our own spiritual lives, will lead us back to the Father, to the ultimate source of all.


So I certainly disagree with the simplistic rad-trad attitude that would strongly identify the Jews as the "Them" opposed to "Us" in some anti-Semitic duality. At the same time, I think the neoconservative eggshell-walking around the Jews, though well-meaning, also has some serious dangers. We know that the Literal sense of Scripture is the sense on which all the other senses hang. In other words, the meaning of the symbolism depends on the structure of the symbols used. There is that tendency nowadays to say that "the Jews didn't kill Jesus, we can't speak of Deicide, etc,"...and yet, I fear that undercuts the message that we sinners killed Jesus, and that sin amounts to nothing less than killing God in our souls. The Jews who reject the Messiah are, for Christians, a potent symbol of all sinners, and if we try to put a distance between them and the Crucifixion...we are also, in effect, symbolically distancing the cross from ourselves as sinners, since in scripture the People of Israel represent us as the Church of sinners. It's a sort of denial on our own part, if you see what I mean.

There are so many little symbolic threads I could relate here, going back to Eden, but my point is that the Jews always will and always should hold a powerful place in the Christian psyche, and that recent attempts to simply downplay the mystery of the Jews are not the true spirit or reconciliation we need. For what is a Christian but a Jew+Jesus? And what is a Saint but a Sinner+Jesus? A tendency to be especially concerned with the Jews, and even to see the Jews as in darkness or blind should not be used as an expression of self-righteous vilification of the Other, but rather of a great love for those without Christ, a love that one starts to feel when one realizes how utterly dependent one is oneself on grace.

A self-righteous contempt for "the Jews" (or "sinners") is usually a projection of ones own guilty conscience as described in my post on Sin. That is the irony: that the holier you become, the greater solidarity you have with sinners, because it is sin, not virtue, that separates and divides mankind [a realization I got from this great article, which I'll do a whole post on soon]. Christ and the Blessed Virgin actually were able to have the greatest solidarity with sinners exactly because they were personally free from all sin and yet had our mortal fallen nature. And, if you're following the symbolic trend here, you cannot fail to notice that Jesus and Mary were also Jews according to the flesh, for this very reason.

However, if contempt for the Jews is a symptom of self-righteous guilt then, on the other hand, I worry that uncritical praise and total acceptance (ie, the dispensationalist "parallel covenant" idea)...is symptomatic of a foreclosure of personal growth of the "once saved always saved" variety. They certainly have more of a certain type of sympathy for sinners ala the "love the sinner, hate the sin" cliche (advice that I'm coming to realize more and more should probably just be "love the sinner. period.") But they also still see salvation as a definitive moment of absolute victory over some self-external problem that can lead to a sort of naive indifferentism for everything beyond that point (an increasingly common attitude among neoconservative "Evangelical Catholics" who have their "conversion experience" and then are permanently but impossibly peachy...)

The typology of the Jews can also be understood in the symbol of the "elder brother"...a term much thrown around by recent Popes in discussing the Jews. However, we must remember the Scriptural foundation of this term. The Elder Brother is not necessarily an unambiguously positive figure. It was Isaac, not Ishmael, Jacob, not Esau, Abel, not Cain...who was favored. And yet, the Father loves all his children. And the envy of the elder (which is the envy of the self-righteous for the love of God for Sinners)...ends ultimately with reconciliation. That is the great mystery of the final teaching regarding the Jews in Catholic thought: their Final Conversion as an eschatological event. The dualism between Saint and Sinner, between Ecclesia and Synagoga...eventually collapses, as they are integrated one into the other, into the Perfect Church, and both then into Christ.

7 comments:

Mark of the Vineyard said...

For anyone that even bothers to read no matter how cursorily the OT, the idea of Church as harlot should not be scandalous. In fact, it's probably the most prominent point of the whole OT: Israel's adultery with idols.

A Sinner said...

Ah, but there is where that self-righteous compartmentalization comes in.

"That was Old Israel" they'll tell you, "The Church is the exact opposite". And, of course, they identify with the Church, at least in their "good self". So they, again, put up this "id"-"superego" dichotomy which is false and unintegrated.

And so they cast as an "outsider" as other-ness...the carnal temptations as I've described in my post on Sin, and likewise vilify the Jews, while trying to trump up the perfection of the moral Ideal.

And, in the world, of course, it is the agenda of Ecclesia which is good and of Synagoga which is bad. It's a question of Christ-acceptance vs. Christ-rejection. And yet, to try to starkly separate them...is naive. Just look at St. Peter and the other Apostles in the Passion narrative...

If Christ Himself shows anything in His own flesh, it is the integration of "Jewish" flesh with "Christian" spirit, as it were. The reconciliation between desire and morality, between energy (now rightly channeled) and structure (now sufficiently flexible), between "id" and "superego" in a finally integrated Self that has died to itself and been reborn.

The individual soul is likened to Ecclesia inasmuch as it is a saint and Synagoga inasmuch as it is a sinner...and yet, conformity to "Church" is not the ultimate goal of Christian life...it is conformity to CHRIST, who is Her Bridegroom.

George said...

hmm...but then are you saying that church (which you seem to identify tropologically as the 'superego') is a bad thing/opposed to christ???

FrGregACCA said...

The ultimate older brother is he who is found in the Parable of the Prodigal Son.

A Sinner said...

"hmm...but then are you saying that church (which you seem to identify tropologically as the 'superego') is a bad thing/opposed to christ???"

Not at all. Because the "superego" and "id" are no more Static than the ego itself. The Perfect Church (as typified in the Virgin Mary, etc)...is not the rigid Pharaseeism that many "good little boys and girls" initially internalize.

In fact, it is only as long as Ecclesia remains opposed to Synagoga that such a harmful superego exists. That is the wonderful paradox I was discussing in my post on Sin: as long as the "good self" tries to deny and exclude and externalize the alleged "bad self"...there is no Wholeness for either. The "good-self" is then ironically bad in the form of self-righteousness, or at least marred.

But as you integrate, hopefully your conscience and your desires will likewise change, will "merge". Integration is not about some delicate balancing act BETWEEN the "superego" and the "id" as if those two original Extremes will always exist in tension within you. Rather, it is about actually integrating them into one. Eventually, your image of the moral ideal will no longer be rigid perfectionism, but will BECOME the ideal of integration. And you will likewise desire it as you realize it is the path to ultimate satisfaction and gratification and inner peace.

Again, we come to the "casta meretrix" idea. The Virgin Mary and Mary Magdalene both stand at the foot of the Cross, redeemed by Christ albeit in different ways. Likewise Ecclesia and Synagoga. Showered by the grace of the Cross, the dualism between these two formerly seemingly "opposed" principles collapses into just the one symbol, that of the Bride, which the Self then truly tries to unite itself to. And finally when that union is achieved, the return to the Father, to the source of all being.

But Ecclesia certainly isn't "bad"...she just isnt Whole and Perfect until she comes to terms with the fact that she IS Synagoga too...that the dualism was false.

Jonathan said...

Very interesting.

A Sinner said...

Yes, I think it's fascinating. And such an important point: the Church is paradoxically not the perfect "Sinless Church" until AFTER integrating with the Jews, which is to say Sinners, an eschatological event.