As we await the results of the Holy See’s talks with the Society of St. Pius X, a prominent Catholic priest has issued an important statement about Vatican II, which is at the center of the discussions.
Msgr. David Jaeger, a judge at the Roman Rota, cautioned against looking “leniently upon stray groups that are marginal but well-publicized who denounce the doctrine of the Council, including the declaration Nostra Aetate on the relationship of the Church to non-Christian religions.”
Speaking at Rome’s Holy Cross University earlier this month, Jaeger underscored that the Church needs to guard against– and oppose with all its strength–the plague of anti-Semitism, which has darkened the hearts of numerous Christians: “The extreme gravity of the counter-witness of those who have, for centuries, abused the name of Christ and the term Christian to persecute and oppress the Jews must never be forgotten or underestimated in any way.”
This is a welcome statement. At the same time, it would be a grave mistake to think that anyone who champions the Latin Mass and Catholic Tradition inevitably falls into the sin of anti-Semitism. Cardinal Alfredo Ottaviani (1890-1979), who headed the Holy Office, and became known as the “traditionalist’s traditionalist,” realized the ideology’s destructive nature and protected persecuted Jews during World War II. Dietrich von Hildebrand (1889-1977)—whom Pius XII called a “twentieth-century Doctor of the Church,” and who both John Paul II and Benedict have expressed great admiration for–was a premier Catholic traditionalist, and leading opponent of anti-Semitism. Both men, it should be noted, defended Vatican II, even as they properly criticized those who misrepresented the Council and dishonored sacred Catholic liturgy.
One reason faithful Catholics have always opposed anti-Semitism is because they know how Jewish Christianity itself is. In a beautiful meditation for the Osservatore Romano in 2000, “The Heritage of Abraham,” Pope Benedict (then Cardinal Ratzinger), explained the deep bonds the two communities share: “The faith witnessed to by the Jewish Bible (the Old Testament for Christians) is not merely another religion to us, but is the foundation of our own faith.” (emphasis added). Msgr. Jaeger expanded upon that theme, noting that “while often presented as if it were absolutely new,” the teaching of Nostra Aetate “perfectly corresponds to the most ancient intuitions of Christian theology” when it affirms there can be, and in some cases are, “elements of truth and holiness” in other religions, particularly Judaism, as explained by St. Paul in the Epistle to the Romans.
Speaking of the non-Christian religions, the Council taught that the Church “has a high regard for the manner of life and conduct, the precepts and doctrines which, although differing in many ways from her own teaching, nevertheless often reflect a ray of that truth which enlightens all men. Yet she proclaims and is in duty bound to proclaim without fail, Christ who is the way, the truth and the life (Jn. 1: 6). In him, in whom God reconciled all things to himself (2 Cor. 5: 18-19), men find the fullness of their religious life.” (Nostra Aetate, 2)
Traditionalists, therefore, need not fear Vatican II, for the Council’s teaching is profoundly biblical, and thus “traditional” in the best sense of that term.